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第五卷下坡路 第03章拉菲特银行中的存款

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CHAPTER III SUMS DEPOSITED WITH LAFFITTE



On the other hand, he remained as simple as on the first day. He had gray hair, a serious eye, the sunburned complexion of a laborer, the thoughtful visage of a philosopher. He habitually wore a hat with a wide brim, and a long coat of coarse cloth, buttoned to the chin. He fulfilled his duties as mayor; but, with that exception, he lived in solitude. He spoke to but few people. He avoided polite attentions; he escaped quickly; he smiled to relieve himself of the necessity of talking; he gave, in order to get rid of the necessity for smiling, The women said of him, "What a good-natured bear!" His pleasure consisted in strolling in the fields.

He always took his meals alone, with an open book before him, which he read. He had a well-selected little library. He loved books; books are cold but safe friends. In proportion as leisure came to him with fortune, he seemed to take advantage of it to cultivate his mind. It had been observed that, ever since his arrival at M. sur M.. his language had grown more polished, more choice, and more gentle with every passing year. He liked to carry a gun with him on his strolls, but he rarely made use of it. When he did happen to do so, his shooting was something so infallible as to inspire terror. He never killed an inoffensive animal. He never shot at a little bird.

Although he was no longer young, it was thought that he was still prodigiously strong. He offered his assistance to any one who was in need of it, lifted a horse, released a wheel clogged in the mud, or stopped a runaway bull by the horns. He always had his pockets full of money when he went out; but they were empty on his return. When he passed through a village, the ragged brats ran joyously after him, and surrounded him like a swarm of gnats.

It was thought that he must, in the past, have lived a country life, since he knew all sorts of useful secrets, which he taught to the peasants. He taught them how to destroy scurf on wheat, by sprinkling it and the granary and inundating the cracks in the floor with a solution of common salt; and how to chase away weevils by hanging up orviot in bloom everywhere, on the walls and the ceilings, among the grass and in the houses.

He had "recipes" for exterminating from a field, blight, tares, foxtail, and all parasitic growths which destroy the wheat. He defended a rabbit warren against rats, simply by the odor of a guinea-pig which he placed in it.

One day he saw some country people busily engaged in pulling up nettles; he examined the plants, which were uprooted and already dried, and said: "They are dead. Nevertheless, it would be a good thing to know how to make use of them. When the nettle is young, the leaf makes an excellent vegetable; when it is older, it has filaments and fibres like hemp and flax. Nettle cloth is as good as linen cloth. Chopped up, nettles are good for poultry; pounded, they are good for horned cattle. The seed of the nettle, mixed with fodder, gives gloss to the hair of animals; the root, mixed with salt, produces a beautiful yellow coloring-matter. Moreover, it is an excellent hay, which can be cut twice. And what is required for the nettle? A little soil, no care, no culture. Only the seed falls as it is ripe, and it is difficult to collect it. That is all. With the exercise of a little care, the nettle could be made useful; it is neglected and it becomes hurtful. It is exterminated. How many men resemble the nettle!" He added, after a pause: "Remember this, my friends: there are no such things as bad plants or bad men. There are only bad cultivators."

The children loved him because he knew how to make charming little trifles of straw and cocoanuts.

When he saw the door of a church hung in black, he entered: he sought out funerals as other men seek christenings. Widowhood and the grief of others attracted him, because of his great gentleness; he mingled with the friends clad in mourning, with families dressed in black, with the priests groaning around a coffin. He seemed to like to give to his thoughts for text these funereal psalmodies filled with the vision of the other world. With his eyes fixed on heaven, he listened with a sort of aspiration towards all the mysteries of the infinite, those sad voices which sing on the verge of the obscure abyss of death.

He performed a multitude of good actions, concealing his agency in them as a man conceals himself because of evil actions. He penetrated houses privately, at night; he ascended staircases furtively. A poor wretch on returning to his attic would find that his door had been opened, sometimes even forced, during his absence. The poor man made a clamor over it: some malefactor had been there! He entered, and the first thing he beheld was a piece of gold lying forgotten on some piece of furniture. The "malefactor" who had been there was Father Madeleine.

He was affable and sad. The people said: "There is a rich man who has not a haughty air. There is a happy man who has not a contented air."

Some people maintained that he was a mysterious person, and that no one ever entered his chamber, which was a regular anchorite's cell, furnished with winged hour-glasses and enlivened by cross-bones and skulls of dead men! This was much talked of, so that one of the elegant and malicious young women of M. sur M. came to him one day, and asked: "Monsieur le Maire, pray show us your chamber. It is said to be a grotto." He smiled, and introduced them instantly into this "grotto." They were well punished for their curiosity. The room was very simply furnished in mahogany, which was rather ugly, like all furniture of that sort, and hung with paper worth twelve sous. They could see nothing remarkable about it, except two candlesticks of antique pattern which stood on the chimney-piece and appeared to be silver, "for they were hall-marked," an observation full of the type of wit of petty towns.

Nevertheless, people continued to say that no one ever got into the room, and that it was a hermit's cave, a mysterious retreat, a hole, a tomb.

It was also whispered about that he had "immense" sums deposited with Laffitte, with this peculiar feature, that they were always at his immediate disposal, so that, it was added, M. Madeleine could make his appearance at Laffitte's any morning, sign a receipt, and carry off his two or three millions in ten minutes. In reality, "these two or three millions" were reducible, as we have said, to six hundred and thirty or forty thousand francs.




三 拉菲特银行中的存款




可是,他的生活还是和当初一样朴素。他有灰白头发,严肃的目光,面色焦黑,象个工人,精神沉郁,象个哲学家。他经常戴一顶宽边帽,穿一身粗呢长礼服,一直扣到颔下。他执行他的市长职务,下班以后便闭门深居。他经常只和少数几个人谈话,他逃避寒喧,遇见人,从侧面行个礼便连忙趋避;他用微笑来避免交谈,用布施来避免微笑。妇人们都说他是“一只多么乖的熊①!”他的消遣方法便是到田野里去散步。

①法国人说“熊”,是指性情孤僻的人。

他老是一个人吃饭,面前摊开一本书,从事阅读。他有一个精致的小书柜。他爱书籍,书籍是一种冷静可靠的朋友。他有了钱,闲空时间也随着增加了,他好象是利用这些时间来提高自己的修养。自从他来到滨海蒙特勒伊以后,大家觉得他的谈吐一年比一年来得更谦恭、更考究、更文雅了。

他散步时喜欢带一枝长枪,但不常用。偶开一枪,却从无虚发,使人惊叹。他从不打死一只无害的野兽,他从不射击一只小鸟。

他虽已上了年纪,不过据说体力仍是不可思议。他常在必要时予人一臂之助,扶起一匹马,推动一个陷在泥坑里的车轮,握着两只角去拦阻一头逃跑的牡牛。出门时,他的衣袋中总是装满了钱,到回来,又都空了。他从一个村庄经过时,那些衣服破烂的孩子们都欢天喜地跑到他身边,就象一群小飞虫似的围着他。

大家猜想他从前大约过过田野生活,因为他有各种有用的秘诀教给那些农民。他告诉他们用普通盐水喷洒仓屋并冲洗地板缝,就可以消灭蛀麦子的飞娥,在墙上、屋顶上、合壁里、屋子里,处处挂上开着花的奥维奥草,就可以驱除米蛀虫。他有许多方法剔除所有一切寄生在田里伤害麦子的草,如野鸠豆草、黑穗草、鸠豆草、山涧草、狐尾草等。他在兔子窝里放一只巴巴利①小猪,它的臭味就可使耗子不敢来伤害兔子。

①巴巴利(Baibarie),非洲北部一带的统称。

一天,他看见村里有许多人正忙着拔除荨麻。他望着一堆已经拔出并且枯萎了的荨麻说道:“死了。假使我们知道利用它,这却是一种好东西。荨麻在嫩时,叶子是一种非常好吃的蔬菜。老荨麻也有一种和亚麻或苎麻一样的纤维和经络。荨麻布并不比苎麻布差些。荨麻斩碎了可以喂鸡鸭。磨烂了也可以喂牛羊。荨麻子拌在刍秣里能使动物的毛光润,根拌在盐里可制成一种悦目的黄色颜料。不管怎样,这总是一种可以收割两次的草料。并且荨麻需要什么呢?一点点土,不需要照顾,不需要培养。不过它的籽,一面熟,一面落,不容易收获罢了。我们只须费一点点力,荨麻就成了有用的东西,我们不去管它,它就成了有害的东西了。于是我们铲除它。世上有多少人就和荨麻大同小异。”他沉默了一会,又接下去说:“我的朋友们,记牢这一点,世界上没有坏草,也没有坏人,只有坏的庄稼人。”

孩子们爱他,也还因为他知道用麦秸和椰子壳做成各种有趣的小玩意儿。

他一看见天主堂门口布置成黑色,总走进去。他探访丧礼,正如别人探访洗礼。由于他的性格非常温和,别人丧偶和其他不幸的事都是他所关心的。他常和居丧的朋友、守制的家庭、在柩旁叹息的神甫们混在一处。他仿佛乐于把自己的思想沉浸在那种满含乐土景色的诔歌里。眼睛仰望天空,仿佛在对无极中那些神秘发出心愿,他静听在死亡的深渊边唱出的那种酸楚的歌声。

他秘密地做了许多善事,正如别人秘密地干着坏事一样。晚上,他常乘人不备,走到别人家里,偷偷摸摸地爬上楼梯。一个穷鬼回到他破屋子里,发现他的房门已被人趁他不在时开过了,有时甚至是撬开的。那穷人连声喊道:“有个小偷来过了!”他走进去,他发现的第一件东西,便是丢在家具上的一枚金币。来过的那个“小偷”正是马德兰伯伯。

他为人和蔼而忧郁。一般平民常说:“这才是一个有钱而不骄傲的人,这才是一个幸福而不自满的人。”

有些人还认为他是一个神秘的人,他们硬说别人从来没有进过他的房间,因为他那房间是一间真正的隐修士的密室,里面放着一个有翅膀的沙漏,还装饰着两根交叉放着的死人的股骨和几个骷髅头。这种话传得很广,因而有一天,滨海蒙特勒伊的几个调皮的时髦青年女子来到他家里,向他提出要求:“市长先生,请您把您的房间给我们看看。人家说它是个石洞。”他微微笑了一下,立刻引她们到“石洞”去。她们大失所望。那仅仅是一间陈设着相当难看的桃花心木家具的房间,那种家具总是难看的,墙上裱着值十二个苏一张的纸。除开壁炉上两个旧烛台外,其余的东西都是不值她们一看的,那两个烛台好象是银的,“因为上面有官厅的戳记。”这是种小城市风味十足的见识。

往后,大家仍旧照样传说从没有人到过他那屋子,说那是一个隐士居住的岩穴,一种梦游的地方,一个土洞,一座坟。

大家还叽叽喳喳地说他有“大宗”款子存在拉菲特银行,并且还有这样一个特点,就是他随时都可以立刻提取那些存款,他们还补充说,马德兰先生可能会在一个早晨跑到拉菲特银行,签上一张收据,十分钟之内提走他的两三百万法郎。而实际上,我们已经说过,那“两三百万”已经渐渐减到六十三四万了。
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