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第02章 市场

本文属阅读资料
THE SCARLET LETTER

Chapter 02 THE MARKET-PLACE




THE grass-plot before the jail, in Prison Lane, on a certain summer morning, not less than two centuries ago, was occupied by a pretty large number of the inhabitants of Boston; all with their eyes intently fastened on the iron-clamped oaken door. Amongst any other population, or at a later period in the history of New England, the grim rigidity that petrified the bearded physiognomies of these good people would have augured some awful business in hand. It could have betokened nothing short of the anticipated execution of some noted culprit, on whom the sentence of a legal tribunal had but confirmed the verdict of public sentiment. But, in that early severity of the Puritan character, an inference of this kind could not so indubitably be drawn. It might be, that a sluggish bond-servant, or an undutiful child, whom his parents had given over to the civil authority, was to be corrected at the whipping-post. It might be, that an Antinomian, a Quaker, or other heterodox religionist, was to be scourged out of the town, or an idle and vagrant Indian, whom the white man's fire-water had made riotous about the streets, was to be driven with stripes into the shadow of the forest. It might be, too, that a witch, like old Mistress Hibbins, the bitter-tempered widow of the magistrate, was to die upon the gallows. In either case, there was very much the same solemnity of demeanour on the part of the spectators; as befitted a people amongst whom religion and law were almost identical, and in whose character both were so thoroughly interfused, that the mildest and the severest acts of public discipline were alike made venerable and awful. Meagre, indeed, and cold, was the sympathy that a transgressor might look for, from such bystanders, at the scaffold. On the other hand, a penalty which, in our days, would infer a degree of mocking infamy and ridicule, might then be invested with almost as stern a dignity as the punishment of death itself.

It was a circumstance to be noted, on the summer morning when our story begins its course, that the women, of whom there were several in the crowd, appeared to take a peculiar interest in whatever penal infliction might be expected to ensue. The age had not so much refinement, that any sense of impropriety restrained the wearers of petticoat and farthingale from stepping forth into the public ways, and wedging their not unsubstantial persons, if occasion were, into the throng nearest to the scaffold at an execution. Morally, as well as materially, there was a coarser fibre in those wives and maidens of old English birth and breeding, than in their fair descendants, separated from them by a series of six or seven generations; for, throughout that chain of ancestry, every successive mother has transmitted to her child a fainter bloom, a more delicate and briefer beauty, and a slighter physical frame, if not a character of less force and solidity, than her own. The women who were now standing about the prison-door stood within less than half a century of the period when the man-like Elizabeth had been the not altogether unsuitable representative of the sex. They were her country-women; and the beef and ale of their native land, with a moral diet not a whit more refined, entered largely into their composition. The bright morning sun, therefore, shone on broad shoulders and well-developed busts, and on round and ruddy cheeks, that had ripened in the far-off island, and had hardly yet grown paler or thinner in the atmosphere of New England. There was, moreover, a boldness and rotundity of speech among these matrons, as most of them seemed to be, that would startle us at the present day, whether in respect to its purport or its volume of tone.

"Goodwives," said a hard-featured dame of fifty, "I'll tell ye a piece of my mind. It would be greatly for the public behoof, if we women, being of mature age and church-members in good repute, should have the handling of such malefactresses as this Hester Prynne. What think ye, gossips? If the hussy stood up for judgment before us five, that are now here in a knot together, would she come off with such a sentence as the worshipful magistrates have awarded? Marry, I trow not!"

"People say," said another, "that the Reverend Master Dimmesdale, her godly pastor, takes it very grievously to heart that such a scandal should have come upon his congregation."

"The magistrates are God-fearing gentlemen, but merciful overmuch-that is a truth," added a third autumnal matron. "At the very least,they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne's forehead. Madam Hester would have winced at that, I warrant me. But she- the naughty baggage- little will she care what they put upon the bodice of her gown! Why, look you, she may cover it with a brooch, or such like heathenish adornment, and so walk the streets as brave as ever!"

"Ah, but," interposed, more softly, a young wife, holding a child by the hand, "Let her cover the mark as she will, the pang of it will be always in her heart."

"What do we talk of marks and brands, whether on the bodice of her gown, or the flesh of her forehead?" cried another female, the ugliest as well as the most pitiless of these self-constituted judges. "This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die. Is there not law for it? Truly there is, both in the Scripture and the statute-book. Then let the magistrates, who have made it of no effect, thank themselves if their own wives and daughters go astray!"

"Mercy on us, goodwife," exclaimed a man in the crowd, "is there no virtue in woman, save what springs from a wholesome fear of the gallows? That is the hardest word yet! Hush, now, gossips! for the lock is turning in the prison-door, and here comes Mistress Prynne herself."

The door of the jail being flung open from within, there appeared, in the first place, like a black shadow emerging into sunshine, the grim and grisly presence of the town-beadle, with a sword by his side, and his staff of office in his hand. This personage prefigured and represented in his aspect the whole dismal severity of the Puritanic code of law, which it was his business to administer in its final and closest application to the offender. Stretching forth the official staff in his left hand, he laid his right upon the shoulder of a young woman, whom he thus drew forward; until, on the threshold of the prison-door, she repelled him, by an action marked with natural dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air, as if by her own free will. She bore in her arms a child, a baby of some three months old, who winked and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day; because its existence, heretofore, had brought it acquainted only with the grey twilight of a dungeon, or other darksome apartment of the prison.

When the young woman- the mother of this child- stood fully revealed before the crowd, it seemed to be her first impulse to clasp the infant closely to her bosom; not so much by an impulse of motherly affection, as that she might thereby conceal a certain token, which was wrought or fastened into her dress. In a moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her arm, and, with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbours. On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore; and which was of a splendour in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony.

The young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale. She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam, and a face which, besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow and deep black eyes. She was ladylike, too, after the manner of the feminine gentility of those days; characterised by a certain state and dignity, rather than by the delicate, evanescent, and indescribable grace, which is now recognised as its indication. And never had Hester Prynne appeared more ladylike, in the antique interpretation of the term, than as she issued from the prison. Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped. It may be true, that, to a sensitive observer, there was something exquisitely painful in it. Her attire, which, indeed, she had wrought for the occasion, in prison, and had modelled much after her own fancy, seemed to express the attitude of her spirit, the desperate recklessness of her mood, by its wild and picturesque peculiarity. But the point which drew all eyes, and, as it were, transfigured the wearer- so that both men and women, who had been familiarly acquainted with Hester Prynne, were now impressed as if they beheld her for the first time- was that SCARLET LETTER, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.

"She hath good skill at her needle, that's certain," remarked one of her female spectators; "but did ever a woman, before this brazen hussy, contrive such a way of showing it! Why, gossips, what is it but to laugh in the faces of our godly magistrates, and make a pride out of what they, worthy gentlemen, meant for a punishment?"

"It were well," muttered the most iron-visaged of the old dames, "if we stripped Madam Hester's rich gown off her dainty shoulders; and as for the red letter, which she hath stitched so curiously, I'll bestow a rag of mine own rheumatic flannel, to make a fitter one!"

"Oh, peace, neighbours, peace!" whispered their youngest companion; "do not let her hear you! Not a stitch in that embroidered letter, but she has felt it in her heart."

The grim beadle now made a gesture with his staff.

"Make way, good people, make way, in the King's name!" cried he."Open a passage; and, I promise ye, Mistress Prynne shall be set where man, woman, and child, may have a fair sight of her brave apparel, from this time till an hour past meridian. A blessing on the righteous Colony of the Massachusetts, where iniquity is dragged out into the sunshine! Come along, Madam Hester, and show your scarlet letter in the market-place!"

A lane was forthwith opened through the crowd of spectators. Preceded by the beadle, and attended by an irregular procession of stern-browed men and unkindly-visaged women, Hester Prynne set forth towards the place appointed for her punishment. A crowd of eager and curious schoolboys, understanding little of the matter in hand, except that it gave them a half-holiday, ran before her progress, turning their heads continually to stare into her face, and at the winking baby in her arms, and at the ignominious letter on her breast. It was no great distance, in those days, from the prison-door to the market-place. Measured by the prisoner's experience, however, it might be reckoned a journey of some length; for, haughty as her demeanour was, she perchance underwent an agony from every footstep of those that thronged to see her, as if her heart had been flung into the street for them all to spurn and trample upon. In our nature, however, there is a provision alike marvellous and merciful, that the sufferer should never know the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it. With almost a serene deportment, therefore, Hester Prynne passed through this portion of her ordeal, and came to a sort of scaffold, at the western extremity of the market-place. It stood nearly beneath the eaves of Boston's earliest church, and appeared to be a fixture there.

In fact, this scaffold constituted a portion of a penal machine, which now, for two or three generations past, has been merely historical and traditionary among us, but was held, in the old time, to be as effectual an agent, in the promotion of good citizenship, as ever was the guillotine among the terrorists of France. It was, in short, the platform of the pillory; and above it rose the framework of that instrument of discipline, so fashioned as to confine the human head in its tight grasp, and thus hold it up to the public gaze. The very ideal of ignominy was embodied and made manifest in this contrivance of wood and iron. There can be no outrage, methinks, against our common nature- whatever be the delinquencies of the individual- no outrage more flagrant than to forbid the culprit to hide his face for shame; as it was the essence of this punishment to do. In Hester Prynne's instance, however, as not unfrequently in other cases, her sentence bore, that she should stand a certain time upon the platform, but without undergoing that gripe about the neck and confinement of the head, the proneness to which was the most devilish characteristic of this ugly engine. Knowing well her part, she ascended a flight of wooden steps, and was thus displayed to the surrounding multitude, at about the height of a man's shoulders above the street.

Had there been a papist among the crowd of Puritans, he might have seen in this beautiful woman, so picturesque in her attire and mien, and with the infant at her bosom, an object to remind him of the image of Divine Maternity, which so many illustrious painters have vied with one another to represent; something which should remind him, indeed, but only by contrast, of that sacred image of sinless motherhood, whose infant was to redeem the world. Here, there was the taint of deepest sin in the most sacred quality of human life, working such effect, that the world was only the darker for this woman's beauty, and the more lost for the infant that she had borne.

The scene was not without a mixture of awe, such as must always invest the spectacle of guilt and shame in a fellow-creature, before society shall have grown corrupt enough to smile, instead of shuddering, at it. The witnesses of Hester Prynne's disgrace had not yet passed beyond their simplicity. They were stern enough to look upon her death, had that been the sentence, without a murmur at its severity, but had none of the heartlessness of another social state, which would find only a theme for jest in an exhibition like the present. Even if there had been a disposition to turn the matter into ridicule, it must have been repressed and overpowered by the solemn presence of men no less dignified than the Governor, and several of his counsellors, a judge, a general, and the ministers of the town; all of whom sat or stood in a balcony of the meetinghouse, looking down upon the platform. When such personages could constitute a part of the spectacle, without risking the majesty or reverence of rank and office, it was safely to be inferred that the infliction of a legal sentence would have an earnest and effectual meaning. Accordingly, the crowd was sombre and grave. The unhappy culprit sustained herself as best a woman might, under the heavy weight of a thousand unrelenting eyes, all fastened upon her and concentrated at her bosom. It was almost intolerable to be borne. Of an impulsive and passionate nature, she had fortified herself to encounter the stings and venomous stabs of public contumely, wreaking itself in every variety of insult; but there was a quality so much more terrible in the solemn mood of the popular mind, that she longed rather to behold all those rigid countenances contorted with scornful merriment, and herself the object. Had a roar of laughter burst from the multitude- each man, each woman, each little shrill-voiced child, contributing their individual parts- Hester Prynne might have repaid them all with a bitter and disdainful smile. But, under the leaden infliction which it was her doom to endure, she felt, at moments, as if she must needs shriek out with the full power of her lungs, and cast herself from the scaffold down upon the ground, or else go mad at once.

Yet there were intervals when the whole scene, in which she was the most conspicuous object, seemed to vanish from her eyes, or at least, glimmered indistinctly before them, like a mass of imperfectly shaped and spectral images. Her mind, and especially her memory. was preternaturally active, and kept bringing up other scenes than this roughly hewn street of a little town, on the edge of the Western wilderness; other faces than were lowering upon her from beneath the brims of those steeple-crowned hats. Reminiscences, the most trifling and immaterial, passages of infancy and school-days, sports, childish quarrels, and the little domestic traits of her maiden years, came swarming back upon her, intermingled with recollections of whatever was gravest in her subsequent life; one picture precisely as vivid as another; as if all were of similar importance, or all alike a play. Possibly, it was an instinctive device of her spirit, to relieve itself, by the exhibition of these phantasmagoric forms, from the cruel weight and hardness of the reality.

Be that as it might, the scaffold of the pillory was a point of view that revealed to Hester Prynne the entire track along which she had been treading, since her happy infancy. Standing on that miserable eminence, she saw her native village, in old England, and her paternal home; a decayed house of grey stone, with a poverty-stricken aspect, but retaining a half-obliterated shield of arms over the portal, in token of antique gentility. She saw her father's face, with its bald brow, and reverend white beard, that flowed over the old-fashioned Elizabethan ruff; her mother's, too, with the look of heedful and anxious love which it always wore in her remembrance, and which, even since her death, had so often laid the impediment of a gentle remonstrance in her daughter's pathway. She saw her own face, glowing with girlish beauty, and illuminating all the interior of the dusky mirror in which she had been wont to gaze at it. There she beheld another countenance, of a man well stricken in years, a pale, thin, scholar-like visage, with eyes dim and bleared by the lamplight that had served them to pore over many ponderous books. Yet those same bleared optics had a strange, penetrating power, when it was their owner's purpose to read the human soul. This figure of the study and the cloister, as Hester Prynne's womanly fancy failed not to recall, was slightly deformed, with the left shoulder a trifle higher than the right. Next rose before her, in memory's picture-gallery, the intricate and narrow thoroughfares, the tall grey houses, the huge cathedrals, and the public edifices, ancient in date and quaint in architecture, of a Continental city; where a new life had awaited her, still in connection with the misshapen scholar; a new life, but feeding itself on time-worn materials, like a tuft of green moss on a crumbling wall. Lastly, in lieu of these shifting scenes, came back the rude market-place of the Puritan settlement, with all the townspeople assembled and levelling their stern regards at Hester Prynne- yes, at herself- who stood on the scaffold of the pillory, an infant on her arm, and the letter A, in scarlet, fantastically embroidered with gold thread, upon her bosom!

Could it be true? She clutched the child so fiercely to her breast, that it sent forth a cry; she turned her eyes downward at the scarlet letter, and even touched it with her finger, to assure herself that the infant and the shame were real. Yes!- these were her realities- all else had vanished!





第二章 市场




二百多年前一个夏日的上午,狱前街上牢房门前的草地上,满满地站着好大一群波士顿的居民,他们一个个都紧盯着布满铁钉的橡木牢门。如若换成其他百姓,或是推迟到新英格兰后来的历史阶段,这些蓄着胡须的好心肠的居民们板着的冷冰冰的面孔,可能是面临凶险的征兆,至少也预示着某个臭名昭著的罪犯即将受到人们期待已久的制裁,因为在那时,法庭的判决无非是认可公众舆论的裁处。但是,由于早年清教徒性格严峻,这种推测未免过于武断。也许,是一个慷倾的奴隶或是被家长送交给当局的一名逆子要在这笞刑柱上受到管教。也许,是一位唯信仰论者①、一位教友派②的教友或信仰其它异端的教徒被鞭挞出城,或是一个闲散的印第安游民,因为喝了白人的烈酒满街胡闹,要挨着鞭子给赶进树林。也许,那是地方宫的遗愿西宾斯老夫人那样生性恶毒的巫婆,将要给吊死在绞架上。无论属于哪种情况,围观者总是摆出分毫不爽的庄严姿态;这倒十分符合早期移民的身分,因为他们将宗教和法律视同一体,二者在他们的品性中融溶为一,凡涉及公共纪律的条款,不管是最轻微的还是最严重的都同样今他们肃然起敬和望而生畏,确实,一个站在刑台上的罪人能够从这样一些旁观看身上谋得的同情是少而又少、冷而又冷的。另外,如今只意味着某种令人冷嘲热讽的惩罚,在当时却可能被赋予同死刑一样严厉的色彩。

就在我们的故事发生的那个夏天的早晨,有一情况颇值一书:挤在人群中的好几位妇女,看来劝可能出现的任何刑罚那抱有特殊的兴趣。那年月没有那么多文明讲究,身着衬裙和撑裙的女人们公然出入于大庭广众之中,只要有可能,便要撅动姻们那并不娇弱的躯体,挤进最靠近刑台的人群中去,也不会缎入什么不成体统的感觉。那些在英伦故土上出生和成长的媳妇和姑娘们,比起她们六七代之后的漂亮的后裔来,身体要粗壮些,精神也要粗犷些;因为通过家系承袭的链条,每代母亲遗传给她女儿的,即使不是较她为少的坚实有力的性格,总会是比较柔弱的体质、更加娇小和短暂的美貌和更加纤细的身材。当时在牢门附近站着的妇女们,和那位堪称代表女性的男子气概的伊丽莎白①相距不足半个世纪。她们是那位女王的乡亲:她们家多的牛肉和麦酒,佐以未经提炼的精神食粮,大量充实进她们的躯体。因此,明亮的晨感所照射着的,是宽阔的肩膀、发育丰满的胸脯和又圆又红的双颊——她们都是在通远的祖国本岛上长大成人的,远还没有在新英格兰的气氛中变得白皙与瘦削些。尤其令人瞩目的是,这些主妇们多数人一开口便是粗喉咙、大嗓门,要是在今天,她们的言谈无论是含义还是音量,都足以使我们瞠目结舌。

“婆娘们,”一个满脸横肉的五十岁的老婆子说,“我跟你们说说我的想法。要是我们这些上了一把年纪、名声又好的教会会友,能够处置海丝特·白兰那种坏女人,倒是给大伙办了件好事。你们觉得怎么样,婆娘们?要是那个破靶站在眼下咱们这五个姐们儿跟前听候判决,她能够带着那些可敬的官老爷们赏给她的判决溜过去吗?老天爷,我才不信呢!”

“听人说,”另一个女人说,“尊敬的丁梅斯代尔教长,就是她的牧师,为了在他的教众中出了这桩丑事,简直伤心透顶啦。”

“那帮宫老爷都是敬神的先生,可惜慈悲心太重陛——这可是真事,”第三个人老珠黄的婆娘补充说。“最起码,他们应该在海丝特·白兰的脑门上烙个记号。那总能让海丝特太太有点怕,我敢这么说。可她——那个破烂货——她才不在乎他们在她前襟上贴个什么呢!哼,你们等着瞧吧,她准会别上个胸针,或者是异教徒的什么首饰,档住胸口,照样招摇过市!”

“啊,不过,”一个手里领着孩子的年轻媳妇轻声插嘴说,“她要是想挡着那记号就随她去吧,反正她心里总会受折磨的。”

“我们扯什么记号不记号的,管它是在她前襟上还是脑门上呢?”另一个女人叫嚷着,她在这几个自命的法官中长相最丑,也最不留情。“这女人给我们大伙都丢了脸,她就该死。难道说没有管这种事的法律吗?明明有嘛,圣经里和法典上全都写着呢。那就请这些不照章办事的宫老爷们的太太小姐们去走邪路吧,那才叫自作自受呢!”

“天哪,婆娘们,”人群中一个男人惊呼道,“女人看到绞刑架就害怕,除去这种廉耻之心,她们身上难道就没有德性了吗?别把话说得太重了!轻点,喂,婆娘们!牢门的锁在转呢,海丝特太太本人就要出来了。”

牢门从里面给一下子打开了,最先露面的是狱吏,他腰侧挎着剑,手中握着权杖,那副阴森可怖的模样象个暗影似的出现在日光之中。这个角色的尊容便是清教徒法典全部冷酷无情的象征和代表,对触犯法律购人最终和最直接执法则是他的差事。此时他伸出左手举着权杖,右手抓着一个年轻妇女的肩头,挽着她向前走;到了牢门口,她用了一个颇能说明她个性的力量和天生的尊严的动作,推开狱吏,象是出于她自主的意志一般走进露天地。她怀里抱着一个三个月左右的婴儿,那孩子眨着眼睛,转动她的小脸躲避着过分耀眼的阳光——自从她降生以来,还只习惯于监狱中的土牢或其它暗室那种昏晦的光线呢。

当那年轻的妇女——就是婴儿的母亲——全身位立在人群面前时,她的第一个冲动似乎就是把孩子抱在胸前;她这么做与其说是出于母爱的激情,不如说可以借此掩盖钉在她衣裙上的标记。然而,她很快就醒悟过来了,用她的耻辱的一个标记来掩盖另一个标记是无济于事的,于是,索兴用一条胳膊架着孩子,她虽然面孔红得发烧,却露出高傲的微笑,用毫无愧色的目光环视着她的同镇居民和街坊邻里。她的裙袍的前胸上露出了一个用红色细布做就、周围用金丝线精心绣成奇巧花边的一个字母A。这个字母制作别致,体现了丰富面华美的匠心,佩在衣服上构成尽美尽善的装饰,而她的衣服把她那年月的情趣衬托得恰到好处,只是其艳丽程度大大超出了殖民地俭补标准的规定。

那年轻妇女身材颀长,体态优美之极。她头上乌黑的浓发光彩夺目,在阳光下说说熠熠生辉。她的面孔不仅皮肤滋润、五官端正、容貌秀丽,而且还有一对鲜明的眉毛和一双漆黑的深目,十分楚楚动人。就那个时代女性举止优雅的风范而论,她也属贵妇之列;她自有一种端庄的风韵,并不同子如今人们心目中的那种纤巧、轻盈和不可言喻的优雅。即使以当年的概念而吉,海丝特·白兰也从来没有象步出监狱的此时此刻这样更象贵妇。那些本来就认识她的人,原先满以为她经历过这一魔难,会缀然失色,结果却惊得都发呆了,因为他们所看到的,是她焕发的美丽,竟把笼罩着她的不幸和耻辱凝成一轮光环。不过,目光敏锐的旁观者无疑能从中觉察出一种微妙的痛楚。她在狱中按照自己的想象,专门为这场合制作的服饰,以其特有的任性和别致,似乎表达了她的精神境界和由绝望而无所顾忌的心情。但是,吸引了所有的人的目光而且事实上使海丝特·白兰焕然一新的,则是在她胸前额频闪光的绣得妙不可言的那个红字,以致那些与她熟识的男男女女简直感到是第一次与她谋面。这个红字具有一种震慑的力量,竟然把她从普通的人间关系中超脱出来,紧裹在自身的氛围里。

“她倒做得一手好针线,这是不用说的,”一个旁观的女人说,“这个厚脸皮的淫妇居然想到用这一手来显示自己,可真是从来汲见过我说,婆娘们,这纯粹是当面笑话我们那些规规矩矩的宫老爷,这不是借火入先生们判的刑罚来大出风头吗?”

“我看啊!”一个面孔板得最紧的老太婆咕哦着,“要是我们能把海丝特太太那件讲究的衣袍从她秀气的肩膀上扒下来,倒挺不钱;至于她绣得稀奇古怪的那个红字嘛,我倒愿意货给她一块我害风湿病用过的法兰绒破布片,做出来才更合适呢I”

“噢,安静点,街坊们,安静点!”她们当中最年轻的同伴悄声说;“别让她听见体们的话!她绣的那个宇,针针线线全都扎到她心口上呢。”

狱吏此时用权杖做了个姿势。

“让开路,好心的人们,让开路,看在国王的份上!”他叫嚷着。“让开一条队我向诸位保证,白兰太太要站的地方,无论男女老少都可以看清她的漂亮的衣服,从现在起直到午后一点,保你们看个够。祝福光明正大的马萨诸塞殖民地,一切罪恶都得拉出来见见太阳!过来,海丝特太太,在这市场上亮亮你那鲜红的字母吧!”

围观的人群中挤开了一条通路。海丝特·白兰跟着在前面开路的狱吏,身后昆随着拧眉攒目购男人和心狠面恶的女人的不成形的队伍,走向指定让她示众的地方。一大群怀着好奇心来凑热闹的小男孩,对眼前的事态不明所以,只晓得学校放了他们半天假,他们一边在头前跑着,一边不时回过头来盯着她的脸、她怀中抱着的眨着眼的婴儿、还有她胸前那个丢人现眼的红字。当年,从牢门到市场没有几步路。然而,要是以囚犯的体验来测量,恐怕是一个路途迢迢的旅程;因为她虽说是高视阔步,但在人们逼视的目光下,每迈出一步都要经历一番痛苦,似乎她的心已经给抛到满心,任凭所有的人碾踩践踏。然而,在我们人类的本性中,原有一条既绝妙又慈悲的先天准备:遭受苦难的人在承受痛楚的当时并不能觉察到其剧烈的程度,反倒是过后延绵的折磨最能使其撕心裂肺。因此,海丝特·白兰简直是以一种安详的举止,度过了此时的磨难,来到市场西端的刑台跟前。这座刑台几乎就竖在波士顿最早的教堂的檐下,看上去象是教堂的附属建筑。

事实上,这座刑台是构成整个惩罚机器的一个组成部分,时隔二、三代入的今天,它在我们的心目中只不过是一个历史和传统的纪念,但在当年,却如同法国大革命时期恐怖党人的断头台一样,被视为教化劝善的有效动力。简言之,这座刑台是一座枷号示众的台子,上面竖着那个惩罚用的套枷,做得刚好把人头紧紧卡使,以便引颈翘旨供人观赡。设计这样一个用铁和木制成的家伙显然极尽羞辱之能事。依我看来,无论犯有何等过失,再没有比这种暴行更违背我们的人性的了,其不准罪人隐藏他那羞惭的面容的险溺用心实在无以复加;而这侩洽是这一刑罚的本意所在。不过,就海丝特·白兰的例子而论,例和多数其它案子相仿,她所受到的惩处是要在刑台上罚站示众一段时间,而无需受扼颈囚首之苦,从而幸免于这一丑陋的机器最为凶残的手段。她深知自己此时的角色的意义,举步登上一段木梯,站到齐肩高的台上,展示在围观人群的众目睽睽之前。

设若在这一群清教徒之中有一个罗马天主教徒的话,他就会从这个服饰和神采如画、怀中紧抱婴儿的美妇身上,联想起众多杰出画家所竞先描绘的圣母的形象,诚然,他的这种联想只能在对比中才能产生,因为圣像中那圣洁清白的母性怀中的婴儿是献给世人来赎罪的。然而在她身上,世俗生活中最神圣的品德,却被最深重的罪孽所玷污了,其结果,只能使世界由于这妇人的美丽而更加晦默,由于她生下的婴儿而益发沉沦。

在人类社会尚未腐败到极点之前,目睹这种罪恶与羞辱的场面,人们还不致以淡然一笑代替不寒而栗,总会给留下一种敬畏心理。亲眼看到海丝特·白兰示众的人们尚未失去他们的纯真。如果她被判死刑,他们会冷冷地看着她死去,而不会咕哝一句什么过于严苛;但他们谁也不会象另一种社会形态中的人那样,把眼前的这种示众只当作笑柄。即使有人心里觉得这事有点可笑,也会因为几位至尊至贵的大人物的郑重出席,而吓得不敢放肆。总督、他的几位参议、一名法官、一名将军和镇上的牧师们就在议事厅的阳台上或坐或立,俯视着刑台。能有这样一些人物到场,而不失他们地位的显赫和职务的威严,我们可以有把握地推断,所做的法律判决肯定具有真挚而有效的含义。因之,人群也显出相应的阴郁和庄重。这个不幸的罪人,在数百双无情的日光紧盯着她、集中在她前胸的重压之下,尽一个妇人的最大可能支撑着自己。这实在是难以忍受的。她本是一个充满热情、容易冲动的人,此时她已使自己坚强起来,以面对用形形色色的侮辱来发泄的公愤的毒刺和利刃;但是,人们那种庄重的情绪反倒隐含着一种可做得多的气氛,使她宁可看到那一张张僵刻的面孔露出轻蔑的嬉笑来嘲弄她。如果从构成这一群人中的每一个男人、每一个女人和每一个尖嗓门的孩子的口中爆发出轰笑,海丝特·白兰或许可以对他们所有的人报以倔傲的冷笑。可是,在她注定要忍受的这种沉闷的打击之下,她时时感到要鼓尼胸腔中的全部力量来尖声呼号,并从刑台上翻到地面,否则,她会立刻发疯的。

然而,在她充当众目所瞩的目标的全部期间,她不时感到眼前茫茫一片,至少,人群象一大堆支离破碎、光怪陆离的幻象般地朦胧模糊。她的思绪,尤其是她的记忆,却不可思议地活跃,越出这蛮荒的大洋西岸边缘上的小镇的祖创的街道,不断带回来别的景色与场面;她想到的,不是那些尖顶高帽帽植下藐视她的面孔。她回忆起那些最琐碎零散、最无关紧要的事情;孩提时期和学校生活,儿时的游戏和争哆,以及婚前在娘家的种种琐事蜂拥回到她的脑海,其中还混杂着她后来生活中最重大的事件的种种片断,一切全都历历如在目前;似乎全都同等重要,或者全都象一出戏。可能,这是她心理上的一种本能反应:通过展现这些备色各样、变幻莫测的画面,把自己的精神从眼前这残酷现实的无情重压下解脱出来。

无论如何,这座示众刑台成了一个了望点,在海丝特·白兰面前展现山自从她幸福的童年以来的全都轨迹。她痛苦地高高站在那里,再次看见了她在老英格兰故乡的村落和她父母的家园:那是一座破败的灰色石屋,虽说外表是一派衰微的景象,但在门廊上方还残存着半明半暗的盾形家族纹章,标志着远祖的世系。她看到厂她父亲的面容:光秃秃的额头和飘洒在伊丽莎白时代老式环状皱领上的威风凛凛的白须;她也看到了她母亲的面容,那种无微不至和牵肠挂肚的爱的表情,时时在她脑海中索绕,即使在母亲去世之后,仍在女儿的人生道路上经常留下温馨忆念的告诫。她看到了自己少女时代的光彩动人的美貌,把她惯于映照的那面昏暗的镜子的整个镜心都照亮了。她还看到了另一副面孔,那是一个年老力衰的男人的面孔,苍白而瘦削,看上去一副学者模样,由于在灯光下研读一册册长篇巨著而老眼昏花。然而正是这同一双昏花的烂眼,在一心接窥测他人的灵魂时,又具有那么奇特的洞察力。尽管海丝特·白兰那女性的想象力竭力想摆脱他的形象,但那学者和隐士的身影还是出现了:他略带畸形,左肩比右肩稍高。在她回忆的画廊中接卜来升到她眼前的,是欧洲大陆一座城市里的纵横交错又显得狭窄的街道,以及年深日久、古色古香的公共建筑物,宏伟的天主教堂和高大的灰色住宅③;一种崭新的生活在那里等待着她,不过仍和那个陶形的学者密切相关;那种生活象是附在颓垣上的一簇青苔,只能靠腐败的营养滋补自己。最终,这些接踵而至的场景烟消云散,海丝特·白兰又回到这片清教徒殖民地的简陋的市场上,全镇的人都聚集在这里,一双双严厉的眼睛紧紧盯着她——是的,盯着她本人——她站在示众刑台上,怀中抱着婴儿,胸前钉着那个用金丝线绝妙地绣着花边的鲜红的字母A!

这一切会是真的吗?她把孩子往胸前猛地用力一抱,孩子昨地一声哭了;她垂下眼睛注视着那鲜红的字母,甚至还用指头触摸了一下,以便使自己确信婴儿和耻辱都是实实在在的。是啊——这些便是她的现实,其余的一切全都消失了!

①一种主张基督徒可以按照福音书所阐明的受到感化而摆脱道德法律约束的教源。

②或称“员格汲”或公谊会”,是一个没有明确的教义,也没有常任牧师,而靠内心灵光指引的教派。

③指荷兰的阿姆斯特丹。据记载,当年在英国受迫害的清教徒,先逃亡到荷兰,随后移居新大陆。
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