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第22章 游行

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Chapter 22 THE PROCESSION




BEFORE Hester Prynne could call together her thoughts, and consider what was practicable to be done in this new and startling aspect of affairs, the sound of military music was heard approaching along a contiguous street. It denoted the advance of the procession of magistrates and citizens, on its way towards the meeting-house; where, in compliance with a custom thus early established, and ever since observed, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale was to deliver an Election Sermon.

Soon the head of the procession showed itself with a slow and stately march, turning a corner, and making its way across the market-place. First came the music. It comprised a variety of instruments, perhaps imperfectly adapted to one another, and played with no great skill; but yet attaining the great object for which the harmony of drum and clarion addresses itself to the multitude- that of imparting a higher and more heroic air to the scene of life that passes before the eye. Little Pearl at first clapped her hands, but then lost, for an instant, the restless agitation that had kept her in a continual effervescence throughout the morning; she gazed silently, and seemed to be borne upward, like a floating sea-bird, on the long heaves and swells of sound. But she was brought back to her former mood by the shimmer of the sunshine on the weapons and bright armour of the military company, which followed after the music, and formed the honorary escort of the procession. This body of soldiery- which still sustains a corporate existence, and marches down from past ages with an ancient and honourable fame- was composed of no mercenary materials. Its ranks were filled with gentlemen, who felt the stirrings of martial impulse, and sought to establish a kind of College of Arms, where, as in an association of Knights Templars, they might learn the science, and, so far as peaceful exercise would teach them, the practices of war. The high estimation then placed upon the military character might be seen in the lofty port of each individual member of the company. Some of them, indeed, by their services in the Low Countries and on other fields of European warfare, had fairly won their title to assume the name and pomp of soldiership. The entire array, moreover, clad in burnished steel, and with plumage nodding over their bright morions, had a brilliancy of effect which no modern display can aspire to equal.

And yet the men of civil eminence, who came immediately behind the military escort, were better worth a thoughtful observer's eye. Even in outward demeanour, they showed a stamp of majesty that made the warrior's haughty stride look vulgar, if not absurd. It was an age when what we call talent had far less consideration than now, but the massive materials which produce stability and dignity of character a great deal more. The people possessed, by hereditary right, the quality of reverence; which, in their descendants, if it survive at all, exists in smaller proportion, and with a vastly diminished force, in the selection and estimate of public men. The change may be for good or ill, and is partly, perhaps, for both. In that old day, the English settler on these rude shores- having left king, nobles, and all degrees of awful rank behind, while still the faculty and necessity of reverence were strong in him- bestowed it on the white hair and venerable brow of age; on long-tried integrity; on solid wisdom and sad-coloured experience; on endowments of that grave and weighty order which gives the idea of permanence, and comes under the general definition of respectability. These primitive statesmen, therefore- Bradstreet, Endicott, Dudley, Bellingham, and their compeers- who were elevated to power by the early choice of the people, seem to have been not often brilliant, but distinguished by a ponderous sobriety, rather than activity of intellect. They had fortitude and self-reliance, and, in time of difficulty or peril, stood up for the welfare of the state like a line of cliffs against a tempestuous tide. The traits of character here indicated were well represented in the square cast of countenance and large physical development of the new colonial magistrates. So far as a demeanour of natural authority was concerned, the mother country need not have been ashamed to see these foremost men of an actual democracy adopted into the House of Peers, or made the Privy Council of the sovereign.

Next in order to the magistrates came the young and eminently distinguished divine, from whose lips the religious discourse of the anniversary was expected. His was the profession, at that era, in which intellectual ability displayed itself far more than in political life; for- leaving a higher motive out of the question- it offered inducements powerful enough, in the almost worshipping respect of the community, to win the most aspiring ambition into its service. Even political power- as in the case of Increase Mather- was within the grasp of a successful priest.

It was the observation of those who beheld him now, that never, since Mr. Dimmesdale first set his foot on the New England shore, had he exhibited such energy as was seen in the gait and air with which he kept his pace in the procession. There was no feebleness of step, as at other times; his frame was not bent; nor did his hand rest ominously upon his heart. Yet, if the clergyman were rightly viewed, his strength seemed not of the body. It might be spiritual, and imparted to him by angelic ministrations. It might be the exhilaration of that potent cordial, which is distilled only in the furnace-glow of earnest and long-continued thought. Or, perchance, his sensitive temperament was invigorated by the loud and piercing music, that swelled heavenward, and uplifted him on its ascending wave.Nevertheless, so abstracted was his look, it might be questioned whether Mr. Dimmesdale even heard the music. There was his body, moving onward, and with an unaccustomed force. But where was his mind? Far and deep in its own region, busying itself, with preternatural activity, to marshal a procession of stately thoughts that were soon to issue thence; and so he saw nothing, heard nothing, knew nothing, of what was around him; but the spiritual element took up the feeble frame, and carried it along, unconscious of the burden, and converting it to spirit like himself. Men of uncommon intellect, who have grown morbid, possess this occasional power of mighty effort, into which they throw the life of many days, and then are lifeless for as many more.

Hester Prynne, gazing steadfastly at the clergyman, felt a dreary influence come over her, but wherefore or whence she knew not; unless that he seemed so remote from her own sphere, and utterly beyond her reach. One glance of recognition, she had imagined, must needs pass between them. She thought of the dim forest, with its little dell of solitude, and love, and anguish, and the mossy tree-trunk, where, sitting hand in hand, they had mingled their sad and passionate talk with the melancholy murmur of the brook. How deeply had they known each other then! And was this the man? She hardly knew him now! He, moving proudly past, enveloped, as it were, in the rich music, with the procession of majestic and venerable fathers; he, so unattainable in his worldly position, and still more so in that far vista of his unsympathising thoughts, through which she now beheld him! Her spirit sank with the idea that all must have been a delusion, and that, vividly as she had dreamed it, there could be no real bond betwixt the clergyman and herself. And thus much of woman was there in Hester, that she could scarcely forgive him- least of all now, when the heavy footstep of their approaching Fate might be heard, nearer, nearer, nearer!- for being able so completely to withdraw himself from their mutual world; while she groped darkly, and stretched forth her cold hands, and found him not.

Pearl either saw and responded to her mother's feelings, or herself felt the remoteness and intangibility that had fallen around the minister. While the procession passed, the child was uneasy, fluttering up and down, like a bird on the point of taking flight. When the whole had gone by, she looked up into Hester's face.

"Mother," said she, "was that the same minister that kissed me by the brook?"

"Hold thy peace, dear little Pearl!" whispered her mother. "We must not always talk in the market-place of what happens to us in the forest."

"I could not be sure that it was he; so strange he looked," continued the child. "Else I would have run to him, and bid him kiss me now, before all the people; even as he did yonder among the dark old trees. What would the minister have said, mother? Would he have clapped his hand over his heart, and scowled on me, and bid me begone?"

"What should he say, Pearl?" answered Hester, "save that it was no time to kiss, and that kisses are not to be given in the market-place? Well for thee, foolish child, that thou didst not speak to him!"

Another shade of the same sentiment, in reference to Mr. Dimmesdale, was expressed by a person whose eccentricities- or insanity, as we should term it- led her to do what few of the townspeople would have ventured on; to begin a conversation with the wearer of the scarlet letter, in public. It was Mistress Hibbins, who, arrayed in great magnificence, with a triple ruff, a broidered stomacher, a gown of rich velvet, and a gold-headed cane, had come forth to see the procession. As this ancient lady had the renown (which subsequently cost her no less a price than her life) of being a principal actor in all the works of necromancy that were continually going forward, the crowd gave way before her, and seemed to fear the touch of her garment, as if it carried the plague among its gorgeous folds. Seen in conjunction with Hester Prynne- kindly as so many now felt towards the latter- the dread inspired by Mistress Hibbins was doubled, and caused a general movement from that part of the market-place in which the two women stood.

"Now, what mortal imagination could conceive it!" whispered the old lady, confidentially, to Hester. "Yonder divine man! That saint on earth, as the people uphold him to be, and as- I must needs say- he really looks! Who, now, that saw him pass in the procession, would think how little while it is since he went forth out of his study- chewing a Hebrew text of Scripture in his mouth, I warrant- to take an airing in the forest! Aha! we know what that means, Hester Prynne! But, truly, forsooth, I find it hard to believe him the same man. Many a church-member saw I, walking behind the music, that has danced in the same measure with me, when Somebody was fiddler, and, it might be, an Indian powwow or a Lapland wizard changing hands with us! That is but a trifle, when a woman knows the world. But this minister! Couldst thou surely tell, Hester, whether he was the same man that encountered thee on the forest-path?"

"Madam, I know not of what you speak," answered Hester Prynne, feeling Mistress Hibbins to be of infirm mind; yet strangely startled and awe-stricken by the confidence with which she affirmed a personal connection between so many persons (herself among them) and the Evil One. "It is not for me to talk lightly of a learned and pious minister of the Word, like the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale!"

"Fie, woman, fie!" cried the old lady, shaking her finger at Hester. "Dost thou think I have been to the forest so many times, and have yet no skill to judge who else has been there? Yea; though no leaf of the wild garlands, which they wore while they danced, be left in their hair! I know thee, Hester; for I behold the token. We may all see it in the sunshine; and it glows like a red flame in the dark. Thou wearest it openly; so there need be no question about that. But this minister! Let me tell thee, in thine ear! When the Black Man sees one of his own servants, signed and sealed, so shy of owning to the bond as is the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, he hath a way of ordering matters so that the mark shall be disclosed in open daylight to the eyes of all the world! What is it that the minister seeks to hide, with his hand always over his heart? Ha, Hester Prynne!"

"What is it, good Mistress Hibbins?" eagerly asked little Pearl."Hast thou seen it?"

"No matter, darling!" responded Mistress Hibbins, making Pearl a profound reverence. "Thou thyself wilt see it, one time or another. They say, child, thou art of the lineage of the Prince of the Air! Wilt thou ride with me, some fine night, to see thy father? Then thou shalt know wherefore the minister keeps his hand over his heart!"

Laughing so shrilly that all the market-place could hear her, the weird old gentlewoman took her departure.

By this time the preliminary prayer had been offered in the meeting-house, and the accents of the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale were heard commencing his discourse. An irresistible feeling kept Hester near the spot. As the sacred edifice was too much thronged to admit another auditor, she took up her position close beside the scaffold of the pillory. It was in sufficient proximity to bring the whole sermon to her ears, in the shape of an indistinct, but varied, murmur and flow of the minister's very peculiar voice.

The vocal organ was in itself a rich endowment; insomuch that a listener, comprehending nothing of the language in which the preacher spoke, might still have been swayed to and fro by the mere tone and cadence. Like all other music, it breathed passion and pathos, and emotions high or tender, in a tongue native to the human heart, wherever educated. Muffled as the sound was by its passage through the church walls, Hester Prynne listened with such intentness, and sympathised so intimately, that the sermon had throughout a meaning for her, entirely apart from its indistinguishable words. These, perhaps, if more distinctly heard, might have been only a grosser medium, and have clogged the spiritual sense. Now she caught the low undertone, as of the wind sinking down to repose itself; then ascended with it, as it rose through progressive gradations of sweetness and power, until its volume seemed to envelop her with an atmosphere of awe and solemn grandeur. And yet, majestic as the voice sometimes became, there was for ever in it an essential character of plaintiveness; a loud or low expression of anguish- the whisper, or the shriek, as it might be conceived, of suffering humanity, that touched a sensibility in every bosom! At times this deep strain of pathos was all that could be heard, and scarcely heard, sighing amid a desolate silence. But even when the minister's voice grew high and commanding- when it gushed irrepressibly upward- when it assumed its utmost breadth and power, so overfilling the church as to burst its way through the solid walls, and diffuse itself in the open air- still, if the auditor listened intently, and for the purpose, he could detect the same cry of pain. What was it? The complaint of a human heart, sorrow-laden, perchance guilty, telling its secret, whether of guilt or sorrow, to the great heart of mankind; beseeching its sympathy or forgiveness- at every moment- in each accent- and never in vain! It was this profound and continual undertone that gave the clergyman his most appropriate power.

During all this time, Hester stood, statue-like, at the foot of the scaffold. If the minister's voice had not kept her there, there would nevertheless have been an inevitable magnetism in that spot, whence she dated the first hour of her life of ignominy. There was a sense within her- to ill-defined to be made a thought, but weighing heavily on her mind- that her whole orb of life, both before and after, was connected with this spot, as with the one point that gave it unity.

Little Pearl, meanwhile, had quitted her mother's side, and was playing at her own will about the market-place. She made the sombre crowd cheerful by her erratic and glistening ray; even as a bird of bright plumage illuminates a whole tree of dusty foliage, by darting to and fro, half seen and half concealed amid the twilight of the clustering leaves. She had an undulating, but, oftentimes, a sharp and irregular movement. It indicated the restless vivacity of her spirit, which to-day was doubly indefatigable in its tiptoe dance, because it was played upon and vibrated with her mother's disquietude. Whenever Pearl saw anything to excite her ever active and wandering curiosity, she flew thitherward, and, as we might say, seized upon that man or thing as her own property, so far as she desired it; but without yielding the minutest degree of control over her motions in requital. The Puritans looked on, and, if they smiled, were none the less inclined to pronounce the child a demon offspring, from the indescribable charm of beauty and eccentricity that shone through her little figure, and sparkled with its activity. She ran and looked the wild Indian in the face; and he grew conscious of a nature wilder than his own. Thence, with native audacity, but still with a reserve as characteristic, she flew into the midst of a group of mariners, the swarthy-cheeked wild men of the ocean, as the Indians were of the land; and they gazed wonderingly and admiringly at Pearl, as if a flake of the sea-foam had taken the shape of a little maid, and were gifted with a soul of the sea-fire, that flashes beneath the prow in the night-time.

One of these seafaring men- the shipmaster, indeed, who had spoken to Hester Prynne- was so smitten with Pearl's aspect, that he attempted to lay hands upon her, with purpose to snatch a kiss. Finding it as impossible to touch her as to catch a humming-bird in the air, he took from his hat the gold chain that was twisted about it, and threw it to the child. Pearl immediately twined it around her neck and waist, with such happy skill, that, once seen there, it became a part of her, and it was difficult to imagine her without it.

"Thy mother is yonder woman with the scarlet letter," said the seaman. "Wilt thou carry her a message from me?"

"If the message pleases me, I will," answered Pearl.

"Then tell her," rejoined he, "that I spake again with the black-a-visaged, hump-shouldered old doctor, and he engages to bring his friend, the gentleman she wots of, aboard with him. So let thy mother take no thought, save for herself and thee. Wilt thou tell her this, thou witch-baby?"

"Mistress Hibbins says my father is the Prince of the Air!" cried Pearl, with a naughty smile. "If thou callest me that ill name, I shall tell him of thee; and he will chase thy ship with a tempest!"

Pursuing a zigzag course across the market-place, the child returned to her mother, and communicated what the mariner had said. Hester's strong, calm, steadfastly enduring spirit almost sank, at last, on beholding this dark and grim countenance of an inevitable doom, which- at the moment when a passage seemed to open for the minister and herself out of their labyrinth of misery- showed itself, with an unrelenting smile, right in the midst of their path.

With her mind harassed by the terrible perplexity in which the shipmaster's intelligence involved her, she was also subjected to another trial. There were many people present, from the country round about, who had often heard scarlet letter, and to whom it had been made terrific by a hundred false or exaggerated rumours, but who had never beheld it with their own bodily eyes. These, after exhausting other modes of amusement, now thronged about Hester Prynne with rude and boorish intrusiveness. Unscrupulous as it was, however, it could not bring them nearer than a circuit of several yards. At that distance they accordingly stood, fixed there by the centrifugal force of the repugnance which the mystic symbol inspired. The whole gang of sailors, likewise, observing the press of spectators, and learning the purport of the scarlet letter, came and thrust their sunburnt and desperado-looking faces into the ring. Even the Indians were affected by a sort of cold shadow of the white man's curiosity, and, gliding through the crowd, fastened their snake-like black eyes on Hester's bosom; conceiving, perhaps, that the wearer of this brilliantly embroidered badge must needs be a personage of high dignity among her people. Lastly the inhabitants of the town (their own interest in this worn-out subject languidly reviving itself, by sympathy with what they saw others feel) lounged idly to the same quarter, and tormented Hester Prynne, perhaps more than all the rest, with their cool, well-acquainted gaze at her familiar shame. Hester saw and recognised the self-same faces of that group of matrons, who had awaited her forthcoming from the prison-door, seven years ago; all save one, the youngest and only compassionate among them, whose burial-robe she had since made. At the final hour, when she was so soon to fling aside the burning letter, it had strangely become the centre of more remark and excitement, and was thus made to sear her breast more painfully, than at any time since the first day she put it on.

While Hester stood in that magic circle of ignominy, where the cunning cruelty of her sentence seemed to have fixed her for ever, the admirable preacher was looking down from the sacred pulpit upon an audience, whose very inmost spirits had yielded to his control. The sainted minister in the church! The woman of the scarlet letter in the market-place! What imagination would have been irreverent enough to surmise that the same scorching stigma was on them both!





第二十二章 游行




海丝特·白兰还没来得及集中她的思路,考虑采取什么切实的措施来应付这刚刚出现的惊人局面,已经从毗邻的街道上传来了越来越近的军乐声。这表示官民们的游行队伍正在朝着议事厅前进;按照早已确立并一直遵照执行的规矩,丁梅斯代尔牧师先生将在那里进行庆祝选举的布道。

不久就可看到游行队伍的排头,缓慢而庄严地前进着,转过街角,朝市场走来。走在最前面的军乐队,由各式各样的乐器组成,或许彼此之间不很和谐,而且演奏技巧也不高明;然而那军鼓和铜号的合奏对于大众来说,却达到了要在他们眼前通过的人生景象上增添更加崇高和英雄的气氛这一伟大目标。小珠儿起初拍着手掌,但后来却忽而失去了整个上午她始终处于的那种兴奋不安的情绪;她默不作声地注视着,似乎象一只盘旋的海鸟在汹涌澎湃的声涛中扶摇直上。但在乐队之后接踵而来、充当队伍光荣的前卫的军人们,他们那在阳光下闪闪发光的明亮的甲胄和武器,又使她回到了原来的心情之中。这个士兵组成的方阵,里面没有一个是雇佣兵,因此仍然保持着一个整体而存在,他们从拥有古老而荣誉的声名的过去的岁月中齐步走来。队列中有不少绅士,他们体会到尚武精神的冲动,谋求建立一种军事学院,以便在那里象在“圣堂骑士”那种社团那样,学习军事科学,至少能在和平时期学会演习战争。这支队伍中人人趾高气昂,从中可以看出当年对军人是多么尊崇。其中有些人也确实由于在低地国家①服役和在其它战场上作战,而赢得了军人的头衔和高傲。何况,他们周身裹着捏亮的铠甲,耀眼的钢盔上还晃动着羽毛,那种辉煌气概,实非如今的阅兵所能媲美。

而紧随卫队而来的文职官员们,却更值得有头脑的旁观者瞩目。单从举止外貌来说,那种庄严神气,就使那群高视阔步的武夫们即使没有显得怪模怪样,也是俗不可耐了。那个时代,我们所说的天才远没有今天这样备受重视,但形成坚定与尊严的人格的多方面的因素却要大受青睐。人们通过世袭权而拥有的受人尊敬的缘由,在其后裔身上,即使仍能侥幸存在,其比例也要小得多,而且由于官员需要公选和评估,他们的势力也要大大减少。这一变化也许是好事,也许是坏事,也许好坏兼而有之。在那旧时的岁月,移民到这片荒滩上的英国定居者,虽然已经把王公贵族以及种种令人生畏的显要抛在脑后,但内心中仍有很强的敬畏的本能和需要,便将此加诸老者的苍苍白发和年迈的额头,加诸久经考验的诚笃,加诸坚实的智慧和悲哀色彩的经历,加诸那种庄重的制度中的才能——那种制度来自“体面”的一般涵义并提供永恒的概念。因此,早年被人们推举而当政的政治家,——勃莱斯特里特、思狄柯特、杜德莱、贝灵汉以及他们的同辈,似乎并非十分英明,但却具备远胜睿智行动的老练沉稳。他们坚定而自信,在困难和危险的时刻,为了国家利益挺身而出,犹如一面危崖迎击拍岸的怒涛。这里提及的性格特点,充分体现在这些新殖民地执政官们的四方脸庞和大块头体格上。就这些生就的当权者的举止而论,这些实行民主的先驱们,即使被接受为贵族院的成员,或委以枢密院顾问之要职,也无愧于他们的英格兰祖国的。

跟在官员们后面依次而来的,是那位声名显赫的青年牧师,人们正期待着从他嘴里听到庆祝日的宗教演说。在那个时代,他从事的职业所显示出的智能要远比从政生涯为多,撇开更高尚的动机不谈,这种职业在引起居民们近乎崇拜的这一点上,就具有极强的诱惑力,足以吸引最有抱负的人侧身其间。甚至连政权都会落在一个成功牧师的掌握之中,英克利斯·马瑟②就是一例。

此时,那些殷殷里看着他的人注意到,自从丁梅斯代尔先生初次踏上新英格兰海岸以来,他还从来没有显示过这样允沛的精力,人们看到他精神抖擞地健步走在队伍之中。他的步履不象平时那样虚弱,他的躯干不再弯曲,他的手也没有病态地捂在心口。然而,如果没有看错的话,牧师的力量似乎并不在身体上,倒是在精神上,而且是由天使通过宗教仪式赋予他的。那力量可能是潜在热情的兴奋表现,是从长期不断的诚挚思想的熔炉中蒸馏出来的。或者,也许是,他的敏感的气质受到了那向天升腾并把他托着飞升的响亮而尖利的音乐的鼓舞。然而,他的目光是那么茫然,人们不禁纳闷,丁梅斯代尔先生到底听没听见那音乐。只见他的躯体正在以一种不同寻常的力量向前移动,但他的心灵何在呢?他的心灵正深深地蕴藏在自己的领域,忙不迭地进行着超自然的活动,以便安排那不久就要源源讲出的一系列庄严的思想,因此,他对于周围的一切全都视而不见,听而不闻,也毫不知晓;但这精神的因素正提携着那虚弱的躯体向前行进,不但毫不感到它的重量,而且将它生成象自身一样的精神。拥有非凡的智力而且已经病体缠身的人,通过巨大努力而获得的这种偶然的能力,能够把许多天凝聚于一时,而随后的那么多天却变得没有生命力了。

不错眼神地紧盯着牧师的海丝特·白兰,感到一种阴沉的势力渗透她的全身,至于这种势力出于什么原因和从何而来,她却无从知晓:她只觉得他离她自己的天地十分遥远,已经全然不可及了。她曾经想象过。他俩之问需要交换一次彼此心照的眼色。她回忆起那阴暗的树林,那孤寂的山谷,那爱情,那极度的悲痛,那长满青苔的树干,他们携手并坐,将他们哀伤而热情的谈活交溶在小溪的忧郁的低语之中。当时,他俩是多么息息相通啊!眼前的这个人就是他吗?她此时简直难以辨认他了!

他在低沉的乐声中,随着那些威严而可敬的神父们,高傲地走了过去,他在尘世的地位已经如此高不可攀,而她此时所看到的他.正陷入超凡脱俗的高深莫测的思绪之中,益发可望而不可及了!她认为一切全都是一场梦幻,她虽然梦得如此真切,但在牧师和她本人之间不可能有任何真实的联系,她的精神随着这种念头而消沉了。而由于海丝特身上存在着那么多女性的东西,她简直难以原谅他——尤其是此时此刻,当他们面临的命运之神的沉重的脚步已经可以听得见是越走越近的时候!——因为他居然能够从他俩的共同世界中一千二净地抽身出去,却把她留在黑暗中摸索,虽伸出她冰冷的双手,却遍寻他而不得见。珠儿对她母亲的感情或者是看出了,或者是感应到了,要不就是她自己也觉得牧师已经笼罩在遥不可及之中了。当游行队伍走过时,珠儿就象一只跃跃欲飞的鸟儿一般不安地跳起又落下。队伍全部过完之后,她抬头盯着海丝特的面孔。

“妈妈,”她说,“他就是那个在小溪边亲吻过我的牧师吗?”

“别出声,亲爱的小珠儿!”她母亲悄悄说。“我们在市场这儿可不准谈起我们在树林里遇到的事。”

“我弄不准那是不是他;他刚才的样子真怪极了,”孩子接着说。“要不我就朝他跑过去,当着所有人的面要他亲我了——就象他在那片黑黑的老树林子里那样。牧师会说些什么呢,妈妈?他会不会用手捂着心口,对我瞪起眼睛,要我走开呢?”

“他能说些什么呢,珠儿?”海丝特回答说,“他只能说,这不是亲你的时候,而且也不能在市场上亲你。总算还好,傻孩子,你没跟他讲话!”

对于丁梅斯代尔牧师,还有一个人也表达了同样的感觉,那人居然荒唐——或者我们应该说成是疯狂——到干出镇上绝少有人做得出的事情:在大庭广众之中与红字的佩戴者讲起话来。那个人就是西宾斯太太。她套着三层皱领,罩着绣花胸衣,穿着华丽的绒袍,还握着根金头手杖,打扮得富丽堂皇地出来看游行。在当年巫术风行一时之际,这位老太婆因在其中担任主角而颇有名气(后来竟为此付出了生命作代价);人们纷纷趋避,仿佛唯恐碰上她的衣袍,就象是那华丽的褶襞中夹带着瘟疫似的。虽说目前已有好多人对海丝特·白兰怀有好感,但人们看到西宾斯太太和她站到一起,由那老太婆引起的恐惧更增加了一倍,于是便从她俩站立的地方纷纷后撤。

“瞧啊,这些凡夫俗子是绝对想象不出的!”那老太婆对海丝特耳语着悄悄话。“瞧那神圣的人!人们都把他看作世间的圣者,而且连我都得说,他的样子真象极了!眼睁睁看着他在游行队伍中走过的人们,谁会想得到,就在不久之前,他还走出他的书斋,——我担保,他嘴里还念念有词地诵着希伯来文的《圣经》,——到森林中去逍遥呢!啊哈!我们清楚那意味着什么,海丝特·白兰!不过,说老实话,我简直不敢相信他就是那同一个人呢。我看见这么多教堂里的人跟在乐队后面游行,他们都曾随着我踏着同样的舞步,由某个人物演奏着提琴,或许,还有一个印第安人的祭司或拉普兰人③的法师同我们牵着手呢!只要一个女人看透了这个世界,这原本是小事一桩。但这个人可是牧师啊!海丝特,你说得准他是不是在林间小路上和你相遇的那同一个人呢?”

“夫人,我实在不明白你讲的话,”海丝特·白兰觉得西宾斯太太有点老糊涂了,就这么回答说;然而,听老太婆说这么多人(包括她本人在内)和那个邪恶的家伙发生了个人联系,她异常吃惊并且吓得要命。“我可没资格随便乱谈象丁梅斯代尔牧师先生那样有学问又虔信《圣经》的牧师!”

“呸,女人,呸!”那老太婆向海丝特摇着一个指头喊道。“你以为我到过那树林里那么多次,居然还没本领判断还有谁去过那儿吗?我当然有;虽说他们在跳舞时戴的野花环没有在他们的头发上留下叶子!我可认识你,海丝特,因为我看见了那个标记。我们在光天化日之下全都可以看见它,而在黑暗中,它象红色火焰一样闪光。你是公开戴着它的,因此绝不会弄错。可是这位牧师!听我在你耳根上告诉你吧!当那个黑男人看见一个他的签过名、盖了章的仆人,象丁梅斯代尔先生那样羞怯地不敢承认有这么个盟约时,他便有一套办法,把那标记在大庭广众之中暴露在世人面前。牧师总用手捂着心口,他想掩藏什么呢?哈,海丝特·白兰!”

“到底是什么啊,好西宾斯太太?”小珠儿急切地问着。“你见过吗?”

“别去管这个吧,乖孩子!”西宾斯太太对珠儿毕恭毕敬地说。“总有一天,你自己会看到的。孩子,他们都说你是‘空中王子’的后代呢!你愿意在一个晚上和我一起驾云上天去看你父亲吗?到那时你就会明白,牧师总把手指在心口上的原因了!”那怪模怪样的老夫人尖声大笑着走开了,惹得全市场的人都听到了。

此时,议事厅中已经作完场前祈祷,可以听到丁梅斯代尔牧师先生开始布道的声音了。一种不可抑制的情感促使海丝特向近处靠去。由于神圣的大厦中挤得人山人海,再也无法容纳新的听讲人,她只好在紧靠刑台的地方占了个位置。这地方足以听到全部说教.虽说不很响亮,但牧师那富有特色的声音象是流水的低吟,缓缓送入她的耳鼓。

那发育器官本身就是一种圆润的天赋;对一个听讲人来说,哪怕全然不懂牧师布道的语言,仍然可以随着那声腔的抑扬顿挫而心往神驰。那声音如同一切音乐一般,传达着热情与悲怆,传达着高昂或温柔的激动,不管你在何地受的教育,听起来内心都会感到亲切熟悉。那声音虽因穿过教堂的重重墙壁而显得低沉,但海丝特·白兰听得十分专注,产生了息息相通的共鸣,那布道对她有着一种与其难以分辨的词句全然无关的完整的含义。这些话如果所得分明些,或许只是一种粗俗的媒介,反倒影响了其精神意义。如今她聆听着那低低的音调,犹如大风缓吹,逐渐平患一般;然后,她又随着那步步上升的甜美和力量飞腾,直到那音量似乎用敬畏和庄严的宏体氛围将她包裹起来。然而,尽管那声音有时变得很威严,但其中始终有一种娓娓动听的本色。那听起来时而如低语,时面如高叫的忽低忽高地表达出来的极度痛苦和受难的人生,触动着每个人心扉的感受!那低沉而悲怆的旋律时时成为你所能听到的全部声音,隐约地在凄凉的沉默之中哀叹。但是甚至当牧师的声音变得高亢而威严,当他的声音不可遏止地直冲云霄,当他的声音达到了最为宽厚有力的音量,以致要充斥整个教堂,甚至要破壁而出,弥漫到户外的空气之中的时候,如果一个听讲人洗耳恭听,他仍然会由此而得以清晰地分辨出同样的痛苦的呼号。那是什么呢?那是一颗人心的哀怨,悲痛地或许是负疚地向人类的伟大胸怀诉说着深藏的秘密,不管是罪孽还是悲伤;它无时无刻不在通过每一个音素祈求着同情或谅解,而且从来都不是徒劳无益的!牧师正是靠了这种深邃而持续的低沉语调而获得了恰到好处的力量。在整个这段时间,海丝特都如泥塑木雕般地僵立在刑台脚下。如果不是牧师的声音把她吸引在那里的话,就必然还有一个不可或缺的磁力让她离不开这块她经受了耻辱生活第一个小时的地方。她内心有一种感觉,虽说难于明晰地表现为一种思想,但却沉重地区在她心头,那就是,她的全部生活轨道,无论过去还是未来,都和这地方密不可分,似乎是由这一点才把她的生活连成一体。

与此同时,小珠儿早已离开了她母亲的身边,随心所欲地在市场里到处玩耍。她以自己的闪烁不定的光辉,使忧郁的人群欢快起来,就象是一只长着光彩夺目的羽毛的鸟儿跳来跳去,在幽暗的时簇中时隐时现,把一棵树的枝枝叶叶全都照亮了。她行踪飘忽,时常会作出突然而意外的动作。这表明了她那永不止歇的精神活力,而今天,由于受到她母亲不平静的心情的拨弄和挑动,她那足尖舞跳得益发不知疲倦。珠儿只要看到有什么激励她的永远活跃的好奇心,就会飞到那儿,只要她愿意,我们可以说,她会把那个人或物当作自己的财产一般抓到手里;而绝不因此而稍稍控制一下自己的行动。那些看着她的清教徒们,只见到那小小的躯体发射着难以言状的美丽和古怪的魅力,并且随着她的动作而闪着光芒,他们即使笑容满面,依然不得不把这孩子说成是妖魔的后裔。她跑去紧盯着野蛮的印第安人的面孔;那人便意识到一种比他自己还要狂野的天性。然后,她出于天生的放肆,但仍然带着特有的冷漠,又飞进了那伙水手中间,这些黑脸膛的汉子犹如陆地上的印第安人一样,是海上的野蛮人,他们惊羡地瞅着珠儿,似乎她是变成小姑娘模样的海水的泡沫,被赋予了海中发光生物的灵魂,于夜晚在船下闪烁。

这些水手当中有一个人就是同海丝特·白兰谈过话的那位船长,他被珠儿的容貌深深吸引,试图把一双手放在她头上,并且打算亲亲她。但他发现要想碰到她简直象抓住空中飞鸣而过的鸟儿一样根本不可能,于是就从他的帽子上取下缠在上边的金链,扔给了那孩子。珠儿立刻用巧妙的手法把金链绕在颈上和腰间,使人看上去觉得那金链本来就是她的一部分,难以想象她怎么能够没有它。

“你妈妈就是那边那个戴红字的女人吗?”那船长说。“你替我给她捎个口信好吗?”

“要是那口信讨我喜欢,我就捎,”珠儿回答说。

“那就告诉她,”他接着说,“我又跟那个黑脸、驼背的老医生谈了,他保证要带他的朋友,也就是你妈妈认识的那位先生,随他上船。所以嘛,你妈妈除去她和你,就不必操别的心了。你把这话告诉她好吗,你这小妖精?”

“西宾斯太太说,我爸爸是‘空中王子’!”珠儿带着调皮的微笑大声说。“要是你叫我这么难听的名字,我就跟他告你的状,他就会用暴风雨追你的船!”

孩子沿着一条弯弯曲曲的路线穿过市场,回到她母亲身边,把船长的话转告给她。海丝特那种坚强、镇定、持久不变的精神,在终于看到那不可避免的命运的阴森面目之后,几乎垮了;就在牧师和她自己挣出悲惨的迷宫,眼前似乎有一条通路向他们敞开的时候,这副带着无情微笑的阴森面孔却出现在他们通路的中间。

船长的这一通知将她投入了可怕的困惑之中,折磨得她心烦意乱,可这时她还要面对另一个考验。市场上有许多从附近乡下来的人,他们时常听人谈起红字,而且由于数以百计的虚构和夸张的谣传,红字对他们已经骇人听闻,但他们谁也没有亲眼目睹过。这伙人在看腻了诸色开心事之后,此时已粗鲁无礼地围在海丝特·白兰的身边。然而,他们尽管毫无顾忌地挤过来,却只停在数步之遥的圈子以外。他们就这样站在那个距离处,被那神秘的符号所激起的反感离心力钉住了。那帮水手们也注意到了人群拥到了一处,并且弄明白了红字的涵义,便也凑近来,把让太阳晒得黑黑的亡命徒的面孔伸进了圈子。连那些印第安人都受到了白人的好奇心的无声的影响,也眯起他们那蛇一般的黑眼睛,把目光穿过人群,斜腕着海丝特的胸前;他们或许以为佩戴这个光彩动人的丝绣徽记的人准是她那一伙人中德高望重的人士。最后,镇上的居民们(他们自己对这个陈旧的题目的兴趣,由于看到了别人的反应,也无精打采地恢复了)也慢吞吞地挪到这一角落,用他们那冰冷而惯见的目光凝视着海丝特·白兰的熟悉的耻辱标记,这或许比别人对她折磨尤甚。海丝特看见并认出了七年前等着她走出狱门的那伙人的同一副女监督式的面孔;其中只缺少一人,就是她们当中最年轻又是唯一有同情心的姑娘,海丝特后来给她做了葬服。就在她即将甩掉那灼人的字母之前的最后时刻,它居然莫名其妙地成为更令人瞩目和激动的中心,因而也使她自从第一天佩戴它以来,此时最为痛苦地感到它在烫烧着她的胸膜。

就在海丝特站在那耻辱的魔圈中,似乎被对她作出的狡诈而残忍的判决永远钉住了的时候,那位令人赞美的牧师正在从那神圣的祭坛上俯视他的听众,他们最内在的精神已经完全被他攫住了。那位教堂中神圣的牧师!那位市场中佩戴红字的女人!谁能够竟然大不敬地猜想出,他俩身上会有着同样的灼热的耻辱烙印呢!

①指荷兰、比利时和卢森堡。

②英克利斯’马瑟(1639一1723),美国教士和神学家,曾出任哈佛学院院长,在萨莱姆驱巫案审讯中起过重要作用。

③居住在斯堪地那维亚半岛和科技半岛北部的拉普人。
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