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All the famous names from the world of fashionable vice were there. They were being slyly observed by a number of society ladies who had again used the sale as a pretext for claiming the right to see, at close quarters, women in whose company they would not otherwise have had occasion to find themselves, and whose easy pleasures they perhaps secretly envied.

The Duchesse de F rubbed shoulders with Mademoiselle A, one of sorriest specimens of our modern courtesans; the Marquise de T shrank from buying an item of furniture for which the bidding was led by Madame D, the most elegant and most celebrated adulteress of our age; the Duc d'Y, who is believed in Madrid to be ruining himself in Paris, and in Paris to be ruining himself in Madrid, and who, when all is said and done, cannot even spend all his income, while continuing to chat with Madame M, one of our wittiest tale-tellers, who occasionally agrees to write down what she says and to sign what she writes, was exchanging confidential glances with Madame de N, the beauty who may be regularly seen driving on the Champs-Elysees, dressed almost invariably in pink or blue, in a carriage drawn by two large black horses sold to her by Tony for ten thousand francs...and paid for in full; lastly, Mademoiselle R, who by sheer talent makes twice what ladies of fashion make with their dowries, and three times as much as what the rest make out of their love affairs, had come in spite of the cold to make a few purchases, and it was not she who attracted the fewest eyes.

We could go on quoting the initials of many of those who had gathered in that drawing room and who were not a little astonished at the company they kept; but we should, we fear, weary the reader.

Suffice it to say that everyone was in the highest spirits and that, of all the women there, many had known the dead girl and gave no sign that they remembered her.

There was much loud laughter; the auctioneers shouted at the tops of their voices; the dealers who had crowded on to the benches placed in front of the auction tables called vainly for silence in which to conduct their business in peace. Never was a gathering more varied and more uproarious.

I slipped unobtrusively into the middle of the distressing tumult, saddened to think that all this was taking place next to the very room where the unfortunate creature whose furniture was being sold up to pay her debts, had breathed her last. Having come to observe rather than to buy, I watched the faces of the tradesmen who had forced the sale and whose features lit up each time an item reached a price they had never dared hope for.

Honest, men all, who had speculated in the prostitution of this woman, had obtained a one hundred per cent return on her, had dogged the last moments of her life with writs, and came after she was dead to claim both the fruits of their honourable calculations and the interest accruing on the shameful credit they had given her.

How right were the Ancients who had one God for merchants and thieves!

Dresses, Indian shawls, jewels, came under the hammer at an unbelievable rate. None of it took my fancy, and I waited on.

Suddenly I heard a voice shout:

'A book fully bound, gilt-edges, entitled: Manon Lescaut. There's something written on the first page: ten francs. '

'Twelve, ' said a voice, after a longish silence.

'Fifteen, ' I said.

Why? I had no idea. No doubt for that 'something written'.

'Fifteen, ' repeated the auctioneer.

'Thirty, ' said the first bidder, in a tone which seemed to defy anybody to go higher.

It was becoming a fight.

'Thirty-five!' I cried, in the same tone of voice.

'Forty.'

'Fifty.'

'Sixty.'

'A hundred.'

I confess that if I had set out to cause a stir, I would have succeeded completely, for my last bid was followed by a great silence, and people stared at me to see who this man was who seemed so intent on possessing the volume.

Apparently the tone in which I had made my latest bid was enough for my opponent: he chose therefore to abandon a struggle which would have served only to cost me ten times what the book was worth and, with a bow, he said very graciously but a little late:

'It's yours, sir.'

No other bids were forthcoming, and the book was knocked down to me.

Since I feared a new onset of obstinacy which my vanity might conceivably have borne but which would have assuredly proved too much for my purse, I gave my name, asked for the volume to be put aside and left by the stairs. I must have greatly intrigued the onlookers who, having witnessed this scene, doubtless wondered why on earth I had gone there to pay a hundred francs for a book that I could have got anywhere for ten or fifteen at most.

An hour later, I had sent round for my purchase.

On the first page, written in ink in an elegant hand, was the dedication of the person who had given the book. This dedication consisted simply of these words:

'Manon to Marguerite,

Humility.'

It was signed: Armand Duval.

What did this word 'Humility' mean?

Was it that Manon, in the opinion of this Monsieur Armand Duval, acknowledged Marguerite as her superior in debauchery or in true love?

The second interpretation seemed the more likely, for the first was impertinently frank, and Marguerite could never have accepted it, whatever opinion she had of herself.

I went out again and thought no more of the book until that night, when I retired to bed.

Manon Lescaut is a truly touching story every detail of which is familiar to me and yet, whenever I hold a copy in my hand, an instinctive feeling for it draws me on. I open it and for the hundredth time I live again with the abbe Prevost's heroine. Now, his heroine is so lifelike that I feel that I have met her. In my new circumstances, the kind of comparison drawn between her and Marguerite added an unexpected edge to my reading, and my forbearance was swelled with pity, almost love, for the poor girl, the disposal of whose estate I could thank for possessing the volume. Manon died in a desert, it is true, but in the terms of the man who loved her with all the strength of his soul and who, when she was dead, dug a grave for her, watered it with his tears and buried his heart with her; whereas Marguerite, a sinner like Manon, and perhaps as truly converted as she, had died surrounded by fabulous luxury, if I could believe what I had seen, on the bed of her own past, but no less lost in the desert of the heart which is much more arid, much vaster and far more pitiless than the one in which Manon had been interred.

Indeed Marguerite, as I had learned from friends informed of the circumstances of her final moments, had seen no true consolation settle at her bedside during the two months when she lay slowly and painfully dying.

Then, from Manon and Marguerite, my thoughts turned to those women whom I knew and whom I could see rushing gaily towards the same almost invariable death.

Poor creatures! If it is wrong to love them, the least one can do is to pity them. You pity the blind man who has never seen the light of day, the deaf man who has never heard the harmonies of nature, the mute who has never found a voice for his soul, and yet, under the specious pretext of decency, you will not pity that blindness of heart, deafness of soul and dumbness of conscience which turn the brains of poor, desperate women and prevent them, despite themselves, from seeing goodness, hearing the Lord and speaking the pure language of love and religion.

Hugo wrote Marion Delorme, Musset wrote Bernerette, Alexandre Dumas wrote Fernande. Thinkers and poets throughout the ages have offered the courtesan the oblation of their mercy and, on occasion, some great man has brought them back to the fold through the gift of his love and even his name. If I dwell on this point, it is because among those who will read these pages, many may already be about to throw down a book in which they fear they will see nothing but an apology for vice and prostitution, and doubtless the youth of the present author is a contributing factor in providing grounds for their fears. Let those who are of such a mind be undeceived. Let them read on, if such fears alone gave them pause.

I am quite simply persuaded of a principle which states that: To any woman whose education has not imparted knowledge of goodness, God almost invariably opens up two paths which will lead her back to it; these paths are suffering and love. They are rocky paths; women who follow them will cut their feet and graze their hands, but will at the same time leave the gaudy rags of vice hanging on the briars which line the road, and shall reach their journey's end in that naked state for which no one need feel shame in the sight of the Lord.

Any who encounter these brave wayfarers are duty bound to comfort them and to say to all the world that they have encountered them, for by proclaiming the news they show the way.

It is not a simple matter of erecting two signposts at the gateway to life, one bearing the inscription: 'The Way of Goodness' and the other carrying this warning: ' The way of evil', and of saying to those who come: 'Choose! ' Each of us, like Christ himself, must point to those paths which will redirect from the second way to the first the steps of those who have allowed themselves to be tempted by the approach roads; and above all let not the beginning of these paths be too painful, nor appear too difficult of access.

Christianity is ever-present, with its wonderful parable of the prodigal son, to urge us to counsels of forbearance and forgiveness. Jesus was full of love for souls of women wounded by the passions of men, and He loved to bind their wounds, drawing from those same wounds the balm which would heal them. Thus he said to Mary Magdalene: ' Your sins, which are many, shall be forgiven, because you loved much' ?a sublime pardon which was to awaken a sublime faith.

Why should we judge more strictly than Christ? Why, clinging stubbornly to the opinions of the world which waxes hard so that we shall think it strong, why should we too turn away souls that bleed from wounds oozing with the evil of their past, like infected blood from a sick body, as they wait only for a friendly hand to bind them up and restore them to a convalescent heart?

It is to my generation that I speak, to those for whom the theories of Monsieur de Voltaire are, happily, defunct, to those who, like myself, can see that humanity has, these fifteen years past, been engaged in one of its boldest leaps forward. The knowledge of good and evil is ours forever; religion is rebuilding, the respect for holy things has been restored to us, and, if the world is not yet wholly good, then at least it is becoming better. The efforts of all intelligent men tend to the same goal, and all those firm in purpose are yoked to the same principle: let us be good, let us be young, let us be true! Evil is but vanity: let us take pride in Goodness and, above all, let us not despair. Let us not scorn the woman who is neither mother nor sister nor daughter nor wife. Let us not limit respect to the family alone nor reduce forbearance to mere egoism. Since there is more rejoicing in heaven for the repentance of one sinner than for a hundred just men who have never sinned, let us try to give heaven cause to rejoice. Heaven may repay us with interest. Let us leave along our way the charity of our forgiveness for those whom earthly desires have brought low, who shall perhaps be saved by hope in heaven and, as wise old dames say when they prescribe remedies of their own making, if it dies no good then at least it can do no harm.

In truth, it must seem very forward of me to seek to derive such great results from the slender subject which I treat; but I am of those who believe that the whole is in the part. The child is small, and yet he is father to the man; the brain is cramped, and yet it is the seat of thought; the eye is but a point, yet it encompasses leagues of space.

十六日下午一点钟,我到昂坦街去了。

在大门口就能听到拍卖估价人的喊叫声。

房间里挤满了好奇的人。

所有花街柳巷的名媛都到场了,有几个贵妇人在偷偷打量她们。这一次她们又可以借着参加拍卖的名义,仔细瞧瞧那些她们从来没有机会与之共同相处的女人,也许她们私下还在暗暗羡慕这些女人自由放荡的享乐生活呢。

F公爵夫人的胳膊撞上了A小姐;A小姐是当今妓女圈子里一位典型的薄命红颜;T侯爵夫人正在犹豫要不要把D夫人一个劲儿在抬价的那件家具买下来;D夫人是当代最风流最有名的荡妇。那位Y公爵,在马德里风传他在巴黎破了产,而在巴黎又风传他在马德里破了产,而实际上连每年的年金都没有花完。这会儿他一面在跟M太太聊天,一面却在和N夫人眉来眼去调情。M太太是一位风趣诙谐的讲故事的好手,她常想把自己讲的东西写下来,并签上自己的大名。漂亮的 N夫人经常在香榭丽舍大街上散步,穿的衣衫离不了粉红和天蓝两种颜色,有两匹高大的黑色骏马为她驾车,这两匹马,托尼①向她要价一万法郎……她如数照付;最后还有R小姐,她靠自己的才能挣得的地位使那些靠嫁妆的上流社会妇人自愧勿如,那些靠爱情生活的女人更是望尘莫及。她不顾天气寒冷,赶来购买一些东西,也引来了人们的注目。

①托尼:当时一位著名的马商。

我们还可以举出云集在这间屋里的很多人的姓氏起首字母,他们在这里相遇连他们自己也感到非常惊讶,不过为了不使读者感到厌烦,恕我不再一一介绍。

我必须一提的是,当时大家都兴高采烈。女人中间虽有很多人是死者生前的熟人,但这会儿似乎对死者毫无怀念之情。

大家高声谈笑,拍卖估价人声嘶力竭地大声叫喊。坐满在拍卖桌前板凳上的商人们拼命叫大家安静,好让他们稳稳当当做生意,但谁也不睬他们。像这样各色人等混杂,环境喧闹不堪的集会倒是从未见过。

我默默地混进了这堆纷乱的人群。我在想,这情景发生在这个可怜的女人咽气的卧室近旁,为的是拍卖她的家具来偿付她生前的债务,想到这里,心中不免感到无限惆怅。我与其说是来买东西的,倒不如说是来看热闹的,我望着几个拍卖商的脸,每当一件物品叫到他们意料不到的高价时,他们就喜笑颜开,心花怒放。

那些在这个女人的神女生涯上搞过投机买卖的人,那些在她身上发过大财的人,那些在她弥留之际拿着贴了印花的借据来和她纠缠不休的人,还有那些在她死后就来收取他们冠冕堂皇的帐款和卑鄙可耻的高额利息的人,所有那些人可全都是正人君子哪!

难怪古人说,商人和盗贼信的是同一个天主,说得何其正确!

长裙、开司米披肩、首饰,一下子都实完了,快得令人难以置信,可是没有一件东西是我用得着的,我一直在等待。

突然,我听到在喊叫:

“精装书一册,装订考究,书边烫金,书名《玛侬·莱斯科》①,扉页上写着几个字,十法郎。”

①《玛侬·莱斯科》:十八世纪法国普莱服神父(1697—1763)写的一部著名恋爱小说。

有相当长一段时间的冷场,以后,有一个人叫道:

“十二法郎。”

“十五法郎,”我说。

为什么我要出这个价钱呢?我自己也不清楚,大概是为了那上面写着的几个字吧。

“十五法郎,”拍卖估价人又叫了一次。

“三十法郎,”第一个出价的人又叫了,口气似乎是对别人加价感到恼火。

这下子就变成一场较量了。

“三十五法郎!”我用同样的口气叫道。

“四十法郎!”

“五十法郎!”

“六十法郎!”

“一百法郎!”

我承认如果我是想要引人注意的话,那么我已经完全达到了目的,因为在这一次争着加码的时候,全场鸦雀无声,大家都瞅着我,想看看这位似乎一心要得到这本书的先生究竟是何等样人。

我最后一次叫价的口气似乎把我那位对手给镇住了,他想想还是退出这场角逐的好,这场角逐徒然使我要花十倍于原价的钱去买下这本书。于是,他向我弯了弯腰,非常客气地(尽管迟了些)对我说:

“我让了,先生。”

那时也没有别人再抬价,书就归了我。

因为我怕我的自尊心会再一次激起我的倔脾气,而我身边又不宽裕,我请他们记下我的姓名,把书留在一边,就下了楼。那些目击者肯定对我作了种种猜测,他们一准会暗暗思忖,我花一百法郎的高价来买这么一本书究竟是为了什么,这本书到处都可以买到,只要花上十个法郎,至多也不过十五个法郎。

一个小时以后,我派人把我买下的那本书取了回来。

扉页上是赠书人用钢笔写的两行秀丽的字迹:

玛侬对玛格丽特

惭愧

下面的署名是阿尔芒·迪瓦尔。

“惭愧”这两个字用在这里是什么意思?

根据阿尔芒·迪瓦尔先生的意见,玛侬是不是承认玛格丽特无论在生活放荡方面,还是在内心感情方面,都要比自己更胜一筹?

第二种在感情方面解释的可能性似乎要大一些,因为第一种解释是唐突无礼的,不管玛格丽特对自己有什么样的看法,她也是不会接受的。

我又出去了,一直到晚上睡觉时,我才想到那本书。

当然,《玛侬·莱斯科》是一个动人的故事,我虽然熟悉故事里每一个情节,可是不论什么时候,只要手头有这本书,我对这本书的感情总是吸引着我,我打开书本,普莱服神父塑造的女主人公似乎又在眼前,这种情况几乎反复一百多次了。这位女主人公给描绘得那么栩栩如生,真切动人,仿佛我真的见过她似的。此时又出现了把玛侬和玛格丽特作比较这种新情况,更增添了这本书对我的意料不到的吸引力。出于对这个可怜的姑娘的怜悯,甚至可以说是喜爱,我对她愈加同情了,这本书就是我从她那里得到的遗物。诚然,玛侬是死在荒凉的沙漠里的,但是她是死在一个真心爱她的情人的怀抱里的。玛侬死后,这个情人为她挖了一个墓穴,他的眼泪洒落在她身上,并且连同他的心也一起埋葬在里面了。而玛格丽特呢,她像玛侬一样是个有罪的人,也有可能像玛侬一样弃邪归正了;但正如我所看到的那样,她是死在富丽豪华的环境里的。她就死在她过去一直睡觉的床上,但在她的心里却是一片空虚,就像被埋葬在沙漠中一样,而且这个沙漠比埋葬玛侬的沙漠更干燥、更荒凉、更无情。

我从几个了解她临终情况的朋友那里听说,玛格丽特在她长达两个月的无比痛苦的病危期间,谁都没有到她床边给过她一点真正的安慰。

我从玛侬和玛格丽特,转而想到了我所认识的那些女人,我看着她们一边唱歌,一边走向那几乎总是千篇一律的最后归宿。

可怜的女人哪!如果说爱她们是一种过错,那么至少也应该同情她们。你们同情见不到阳光的瞎子,同情听不到大自然音响的聋子,同情不能用声音来表达自己思想的哑巴;但是,在一种虚假的所谓廉耻的借口之下,你们却不愿意同情这种心灵上的瞎子,灵魂上的聋子和良心上的哑巴。这些残疾逼得那个不幸的受苦的女人发疯,使她无可奈何地看不到善良,听不到天主的声音,也讲不出爱情、信仰的纯洁的语言。

雨果刻画了玛丽翁·德·萝尔姆;缪塞创作了贝尔娜雷特;大仲马塑造了费尔南特;①各个时期的思想家和诗人都把仁慈的怜悯心奉献给娼家女子。有时候一个伟人挺身而出,用他的爱情、甚至以他的姓氏来为她们恢复名誉。我之所以要再三强调这一点,因为在那些开始看我这本书的读者中间,恐怕有很多人已经准备把这本书抛开了,生怕这是一本专门为邪恶和淫欲辩护的书,而且作者的年龄想必更容易使人产生这种顾虑。希望这些人别这么想,如果仅仅是为了这一点,那还是请继续看下去的好。

①雨果、缪塞和大仲马都是法国十九世纪著名作家。玛丽翁·德·萝尔姆,贝尔娜雷特和费尔南特这三个人都是他们作品中写到的妓女。

我只信奉一个原则:没有受到过“善”的教育的女子,天主几乎总是向她们指出两条道路,让她们能殊途同归地走到他的跟前:一条是痛苦,一条是爱情。这两条路走起来都十分艰难。那些女人在上面走得两脚流血,两手破裂;但与此同时,她们把罪孽的盛装留在沿途的荆棘上,赤条条地抵达旅途的尽头,而这样全身赤裸地来到天主跟前,是用不着脸红的。

遇到这些勇敢的女旅客的人们都应该帮助她们,并且跟大家说他们曾经遇到过这些女人,因为在宣传这件事情的时候,也就是指出了道路。

要解决这个问题不能简单地在人生道路的入口处竖上两块牌子:一块是告示,写着“善之路”;另一块是警告,写着“恶之路”;并且向那些走来的人说:“选择吧!”而必须像基督那样,向那些受到环境诱惑的人指出从第二条路通往第一条路的途径;尤其是不能让这些途径的开头那一段太险峻,显得太不好走。

基督教关于浪子回头的动人的寓言,目的就是劝告我们对人要仁慈,要宽容。耶稣对那些深受情欲之害的灵魂充满了爱,他喜欢在包扎他们伤口的时候,从伤口本身取出治伤口的香膏敷在伤口上。因此,他对玛特莱娜说:“你将获得宽恕,因为你爱得多①,”这种崇高的宽恕行为自然唤起了一种崇高的信仰。

①见《圣经·路加福音》第七章,第四十四至四十八节。

为什么我们要比基督严厉呢?这个世界为了要显示它的强大,故作严厉,我们也就顽固地接受了它的成见。为什么我们要和它一样丢弃那些伤口里流着血的灵魂呢?从这些伤口里,像病人渗出污血一样渗出了他们过去的罪恶。这些灵魂在等待着一只友谊的手来包扎他们的伤口,治愈他们心头的创伤。

我这是在向我同时代的人呼吁,向那些伏尔泰先生的理论幸而对之已经不起作用的人们呼吁,向那些像我一样地懂得十五年以来人道主义正在突飞猛进的人呼吁。善恶的学识已经得到公认,信仰又重新建立,我们对神圣的事物又重新开始尊敬。如果还不能说这个世界是十全十美的,至少可以说比以前大有改善。聪明人全都致力于同一个目的,一切伟大的意志都服从于同一个原则:我们要善良,要朝气蓬勃,要真实!邪恶只不过是一种空虚的东西,我们要为行善而感到骄傲,最重要的是,我们千万不要丧失信心。不要轻视那些既不是母亲、姐妹,又不是女儿、妻子的女人。不要减少对亲族的尊重,和对自私的宽容。既然上天对一个忏悔的罪人比对一百个从来没有犯过罪的正直的人更加喜欢,就让我们尽力讨上天的喜欢吧,上天会赐福给我们的。在我们行进的道路上,给那些被人间欲望所断送的人留下我们的宽恕吧,也许一种神圣的希望可以拯救他们,就像那些老婆子在劝人接受她们的治疗方法时所说的:即使没有什么好处,也不会有什么坏处。

当然,我想从细小的论题里面得出伟大的结论,似乎太狂妄、太大胆了。但是,一切都存在于渺小之中,我就是相信这种说法的人。孩子虽然幼小,但他是未来的成人;脑袋虽然狭窄,但它蕴藏着无限的思想;眼珠儿才不过一丁点儿大,它却可以看到广阔的天地。