暑期读经典短篇小说:古老的戒指

作者:admin

来源:

2015-6-15 10:01

心和身体总有一个要在路上,炎炎夏日,只想宅在家里,提高英语怎么破?

一起加入暑期读经典短篇小说的悦读行列吧~~

Week One:古老的戒指---霍桑

作家简介:纳撒尼尔·霍桑:19世纪前半期美国最伟大的小说家。 其代表作品有:短篇小说集《古宅青苔》、《重讲一遍的故事》等,长篇小说《红字》、《带七个尖顶的阁楼》、《福谷传奇》、《玉石人像》等。这些都是世界文学史上不可多得的经典名著。(文章末尾可选择页码)
“Yes, indeed: the gem is as bright as a star, and curiously set,“ said Clara Pembertou, examining an antique ring, which her betrothed lover had just presented to her, with a very pretty speech. “It needs only one thing to make it perfect.“

“And what is that?“ asked Mr. Edward Caryl, secretly anxious for the credit of his gift. “A modern setting, perhaps?“

“O, no! That would destroy the charm at once,“ replied Clara. “It needs nothing but a story. I long to know how many times it has been the pledge of faith between two lovers, and whether the vows, of which it was the symbol, were always kept or often broken. Not that I should be too scrupulous about facts. If you happen to be unacquainted with its authentic history, so much the better. May it not have sparkled upon a queen’s finger? Or who knows but it is the very ring which Posthumus received from Imogen? In short, you must kindle your imagination at the lustre of this diamond, and make a legend for it.“

Now such a task–and doubtless Clara knew it–was the most acceptable that could have been imposed on Edward Caryl. He was one of that multitude of young gentlemen–limbs, or rather twigs of the law–whose names appear in gilt letters on the front of Tudor’s Buildings, and other places in the vicinity of the Court House, which seem to be the haunt of the gentler as well as the severer Muses. Edward, in the dearth of clients, was accustomed to employ his much leisure in assisting the growth of American Literature, to which good cause he had contributed not a few quires of the finest letter-paper, containing some thought, some fancy, some depth of feeling, together with a young writer’s abundance of conceits. Sonnets, stanzas of Tennysonian sweetness, tales imbued with German mysticism, versions from Jean Paul, criticisms of the old English poets, and essays smacking of Dialistic philosophy, were among his multifarious productions. The editors of the fashionable periodicals were familiar with his autograph, and inscribed his name in those brilliant bead-rolls of ink-stained celebrity, which illustrate the first page of their covers. Nor did fame withhold her laurel. Hillard had included him among the lights of the New England metropolis, in his Boston Book; Bryant had found room for some of his stanzas, in the Selections from American Poetry; and Mr. Griswold, in his recent assemblage of the sons and daughters of song, had introduced Edward Caryl into the inner court of the temple, among his fourscore choicest bards. There was a prospect, indeed, of his assuming a still higher and more independent position. Interviews had been held with Ticknor, and a correspondence with the Harpers, respecting a proposed volume, chiefly to consist of Mr. Caryl’s fugitive pieces in the Magazines, but to be accompanied with a poem of some length, never before published. Not improbably, the public may yet be gratified with this collection.

Meanwhile, we sum up our sketch of Edward Caryl, by pronouncing him, though somewhat of a carpet knight in literature, yet no unfavorable specimen of a generation of rising writers, whose spirit is such that we may reasonably expect creditable attempts from all, and good and beautiful results from some. And, it will be observed, Edward was the very man to write pretty legends, at a lady’s instance, for an old- fashioned diamond ring. He took the jewel in his hand, and turned it so as to catch its scintillating radiance, as if hoping, in accordance with Clara’s suggestion, to light up his fancy with that starlike gleam.

“Shall it be a ballad?–a tale in verse?“ he inquired. “Enchanted rings often glisten in old English poetry, I think something may be done with the subject; but it is fitter for rhyme than prose.“

“No, no,“ said Miss Pemberton, “we will have no more rhyme than just enough for a posy to the ring. You must tell the legend in simple prose; and when it is finished, I will make a little party to hear it read.“

The young gentleman promised obedience; and going to his pillow, with his head full of the familiar spirits that used to be worn in rings, watches, and sword-hilts, he had the good fortune to possess himself of an available idea in a dream. Connecting this with what he himself chanced to know of the ring’s real history, his task was done. Clara Pemberton invited a select few of her friends, all holding the stanchest faith in Edward’s genius, and therefore the most genial auditors, if not altogether the fairest critics, that a writer could possibly desire. Blessed be woman for her faculty of admiration, and especially for her tendency to admire with her heart, when man, at most, grants merely a cold approval with his mind!

Drawing his chair beneath the blaze of a solar lamp, Edward Caryl untied a roll of glossy paper, and began as follows:–

THE LEGEND

After the death-warrant had been read to the Earl of Essex, and on the evening before his appointed execution, the Countess of Shrewsbury paid his lordship a visit, and found him, as it appeared, toying childishly with a ring. The diamond, that enriched it, glittered like a little star, but with a singular tinge of red. The gloomy prison-chamber in the Tower, with its deep and narrow windows piercing the walls of stone, was now all that the earl possessed of worldly prospect; so that there was the less wonder that he should look steadfastly into the gem, and moralize upon earth’s deceitful splendor, as men in darkness and ruin seldom fail to do. But the shrewd observations of the countess,–an artful and unprincipled woman,–the pretended friend of Essex, but who had come to glut her revenge for a deed of scorn which he himself had forgotten,–her keen eye detected a deeper interest attached to this jewel. Even while expressing his gratitude for her remembrance of a ruined favorite, and condemned criminal, the earl’s glance reverted to the ring, as if all that remained of time and its affairs were collected within that small golden circlet.

“My dear lord,“ observed the countess, “there is surely some matter of great moment wherewith this ring is connected, since it, so absorbs your mind. A token, it may be, of some fair lady’s love,–alas, poor lady, once richest in possessing such a heart! Would you that the jewel be returned to her?“

“The queen! the queen! It was her Majesty’s own gift,“ replied the earl, still gazing into the depths of the gem. “She took it from her finger, and told me, with a smile, that it was an heirloom from her Tudor ancestors, and had once been the property of Merlin, the British wizard, who gave it to the lady of his love. His art had made this diamond the abiding-place of a spirit, which, though of fiendish nature, was bound to work only good, so long as the ring was an unviolated pledge of love and faith, both with the giver and receiver. But should love prove false, and faith be broken, then the evil spirit would work his own devilish will, until the ring were purified by becoming the medium of some good and holy act, and again the pledge of faithful love. The gem soon lost its virtue; for the wizard was murdered by the very lady to whom he gave it.“

“An idle legend!“ said the countess.

“It is so,“ answered Essex, with a melancholy smile. “Yet the queen’s favor, of which this ring was the symbol, has proved my ruin. When death is nigh, men converse with dreams and shadows. I have been gazing into the diamond, and fancying–but you will laugh at me–that I might catch a glimpse of the evil spirit there. Do you observe this red glow,–dusky, too, amid all the brightness? It is the token of his presence; and even now, methinks, it grows redder and duskier, like an angry sunset.“
#p#副标题#e#


Nevertheless, the earl’s manner testified how slight was his credence in the enchanted properties of the ring. But there is a kind of playfulness that comes in moments of despair, when the reality of misfortune, if entirely felt, would crush the soul at once. He now, for a brief space, was lost in thought, while the countess contemplated him with malignant satisfaction.

“This ring,“ he resumed, in another tone, “alone remains, of all that my royal mistress’s favor lavished upon her servant. My fortune once shone as brightly as the gem. And now, such a darkness has fallen around me, methinks it would be no marvel if its gleam–the sole light of my prison-house–were to be forthwith extinguished; inasmuch as my last earthly hope depends upon it.“

“How say you, my lord?“ asked the Countess of Shrewsbury. “The stone is bright; but there should be strange magic in it, if it can keep your hopes alive, at this sad hour. Alas! these iron bars and ramparts of the Tower are unlike to yield to such a spell.“

Essex raised his head involuntarily; for there was something in the countess’s tone that disturbed him, although he could not suspect that an enemy had intruded upon the sacred privacy of a prisoner’s dungeon, to exult over so dark a ruin of such once brilliant fortunes. He looked her in the face, but saw nothing to awaken his distrust. It would have required a keener eye than even Cecil’s to read the secret of a countenance, which had been worn so long in the false light of a court, that it was now little better than a mask, telling any story save the true one. The condemned nobleman again bent over the ring, and proceeded:

“It once had power in it,–this bright gem,–the magic that appertains to the talisman of a great queen’s favor. She bade me, if hereafter I should fall into her disgrace,–how deep soever, and whatever might be the crime,–to convey this jewel to her sight, and it should plead for me. Doubtless, with her piercing judgment, she had even then detected the rashness of my nature, and foreboded some such deed as has now brought destruction upon my bead. And knowing, too, her own hereditary rigor, she designed, it may be, that the memory of gentler and kindlier hours should soften her heart in my behalf, when my need should be the greatest. I have doubted,–I have distrusted,–yet who can tell, even now, what happy influence this ring might have?“

“You have delayed full long to show the ring, and plead her Majesty’s gracious promise,“ remarked the countess,–“your state being what it is.“

“True,“ replied the earl: “but for my honor’s sake, I was loath to entreat the queen’s mercy, while I might hope for life, at least, from the justice of the laws. If, on a trial by my peers, I had been acquitted of meditating violence against her sacred life, then would I have fallen at her feet, and presenting the jewel, have prayed no other favor than that my love and zeal should be put to the severest test. But now–it were confessing too much–it were cringing too low–to beg the miserable gift of life, on no other score than the tenderness which her Majesty deems one to have forfeited!“

“Yet it is your only hope,“ said the countess.

“And besides,“ continued Essex, pursuing his own reflections, “of what avail will be this token of womanly feeling, when, on the other hand, are arrayed the all-prevailing motives of state policy, and the artifices and intrigues of courtiers, to consummate my downfall? Will Cecil or Raleigh suffer her heart to act for itself, even if the spirit of her father were not in her? It is in vain to hope it.“

But still Essex gazed at the ring with an absorbed attention, that proved how much hope his sanguine temperament had concentrated here, when there was none else for him in the wide world, save what lay in the compass of that hoop of gold. The spark of brightness within the diamond, which gleamed like an intenser than earthly fire, was the memorial of his dazzling career. It had not paled with the waning sunshine of his mistress’s favor; on the contrary, in spite of its remarkable tinge of dusky red, he fancied that it never shone so brightly. The glow of festal torches,–the blaze of perfumed lamps,– bonfires that had been kindled for him, when he was the darling of the people,–the splendor of the royal court, where he had been the peculiar star,–all seemed to have collected their moral or material glory into the gem, and to burn with a radiance caught from the future, as well as gathered from the past. That radiance might break forth again. Bursting from the diamond, into which it was now narrowed, it might been first upon the gloomy walls of the Tower,–then wider, wider, wider,– till all England, and the seas around her cliffs, should be gladdened with the light. It was such an ecstasy as often ensues after long depression, and has been supposed to precede the circumstances of darkest fate that may befall mortal man. The earl pressed the ring to his heart as if it were indeed a talisman, the habitation of a spirit, as the queen had playfully assured him,–but a spirit of happier influences than her legend spake of.
#p#副标题#e#


“O, could I but make my way to her footstool!“ cried he, waving his hand aloft, while he paced the stone pavement of his prison-chamber with an impetuous step. “I might kneel down, indeed, a ruined man, condemned to the block, but how should I rise again? Once more the favorite of Elizabeth!–England’s proudest noble!–with such prospects as ambition never aimed at! Why have I tarried so long in this weary dungeon? The ring has power to set me free! The palace wants me! Ho, jailer, unbar the door!“

But then occurred the recollection of the impossibility of obtaining an interview with his fatally estranged mistress, and testing the influence over her affections, which he still flattered himself with possessing. Could he step beyond the limits of his prison, the world would be all sunshine; but here was only gloom and death.

“Alas!“ said he, slowly and sadly, letting his head fall upon his hands. “I die for the lack of one blessed word.“

The Countess of Shrewsbury, herself forgotten amid the earl’s gorgeous visions, had watched him with an aspect that could have betrayed nothing to the most suspicious observer; unless that it was too calm for humanity, while witnessing the flutterings, as it were, of a generous heart in the death-agony. She now approached him.

“My good lord,“ she said, “what mean you to do?“

“Nothing,–my deeds are done!“ replied he, despondingly; “yet, had a fallen favorite any friends, I would entreat one of them to lay this ring at her Majesty’s feet; albeit with little hope, save that, hereafter, it might remind her that poor Essex, once far too highly favored, was at last too severely dealt with.“

“I will be that friend,“ said the countess. “There is no time to be lost. Trust this precious ring with me. This very night the queen’s eye shall rest upon it; nor shall the efficacy of my poor words be wanting, to strengthen the impression which it will doubtless make.“

The earl’s first impulse was to hold out the ring. But looking at the countess, as she bent forward to receive it, he fancied that the red glow of the gem tinged all her face, and gave it an ominous expression. Many passages of past times recurred to his memory. A preternatural insight, perchance caught from approaching death, threw its momentary gleam, as from a meteor, all round his position.

“Countess,“ he said, “I know not wherefore I hesitate, being in a plight so desperate, and having so little choice of friends. But have you looked into your own heart? Can you perform this office with the truth –the earnestness–time–zeal, even to tears, and agony of spirit– wherewith the holy gift of human life should be pleaded for? Woe be unto you, should you undertake this task, and deal towards me otherwise than with utmost faith! For your own soul’s sake, and as you would have peace at your death-hour, consider well in what spirit you receive this ring!“

The countess did not shrink.

“My lord!–my good lord!“ she exclaimed, “wrong not a woman’s heart by these suspicious. You might choose another messenger; but who, save a lady of her bedchamber, can obtain access to the queen at this untimely hour? It is for your life,–for your life,–else I would not renew my offer.“

“Take the ring,“ said the earl.

“Believe that it shall be in the queen’s hands before the lapse of another hour,“ replied the countess, as she received this sacred trust of life and death. “To-morrow morning look for the result of my intercession.“

She departed. Again the earl’s hopes rose high. Dreams visited his slumber, not of the sable-decked scaffold in the Tower-yard, but of canopies of state, obsequious courtiers, pomp, splendor, the smile of the once more gracious queen, and a light beaming from the magic gem, which illuminated his whole future.
#p#副标题#e#


History records how foully the Countess of Shrewsbury betrayed the trust, which Essex, in his utmost need, confided to her. She kept the ring, and stood in the presence of Elizabeth, that night, without one attempt to soften her stern hereditary temper in behalf of the former favorite. The next day the earl’s noble head rolled upon the scaffold. On her death-bed, tortured, at last, with a sense of the dreadful guilt which she had taken upon her soul, the wicked countess sent for Elizabeth, revealed the story of the ring, and besought forgiveness for her treachery. But the queen, still obdurate, even while remorse for past obduracy was tugging at her heart-strings, shook the dying woman in her bed, as if struggling with death for the privilege of wreaking her revenge and spite. The spirit of the countess passed away, to undergo the justice, or receive the mercy, of a higher tribunal; and tradition says, that the fatal ring was found upon her breast, where it had imprinted a dark red circle, resembling the effect of the intensest heat. The attendants, who prepared the body for burial, shuddered, whispering one to another, that the ring must have derived its heat from the glow of infernal fire. They left it on her breast, in the coffin, and it went with that guilty woman to the tomb.

Many years afterward, when the church, that contained the monuments of the Shrewsbury family, was desecrated by Cromwell’s soldiers, they broke open the ancestral vaults, and stole whatever was valuable from the noble personages who reposed there. Merlin’s antique ring passed into the possession of a stout sergeant of the Ironsides, who thus became subject to the influences of the evil spirit that still kept his abode within the gem’s enchanted depths. The sergeant was soon slain in battle, thus transmitting the ring, though without any legal form of testament, to a gay cavalier, who forthwith pawned it, and expended the money in liquor, which speedily brought him to the grave. We next catch the sparkle of the magic diamond at various epochs of the merry reign of Charles the Second. But its sinister fortune still attended it. From whatever hand this ring of portent came, and whatever finger it encircled, ever it was the pledge of deceit between man and man, or man and woman, of faithless vows, and unhallowed passion; and whether to lords and ladies, or to village-maids,–for sometimes it found its way so low,–still it brought nothing but sorrow and disgrace. No purifying deed was done, to drive the fiend from his bright home in this little star. Again, we hear of it at a later period, when Sir Robert Walpole bestowed the ring, among far richer jewels, on the lady of a British legislator, whose political honor he wished to undermine. Many a dismal and unhappy tale might be wrought out of its other adventures. All this while, its ominous tinge of dusky red had been deepening and darkening, until, if laid upon white paper, it cast the mingled hue of night and blood, strangely illuminated with scintillating light, in a circle round about. But this peculiarity only made it the more valuable.

Alas, the fatal ring! When shall its dark secret be discovered, and the doom of ill, inherited from one possessor to another, be finally revoked?

The legend now crosses the Atlantic, and comes down to our own immediate time. In a certain church of our city, not many evenings ago, there was a contribution for a charitable object. A fervid preacher had poured out his whole soul in a rich and tender discourse, which had at least excited the tears, and perhaps the more effectual sympathy, of a numerous audience. While the choristers sang sweetly, and the organ poured forth its melodious thunder, the deacons passed up and down the aisles, and along the galleries, presenting their mahogany boxes, in which each person deposited whatever sum he deemed it safe to lend to the Lord, in aid of human wretchedness. Charity became audible,–chink, chink, chink,–as it fell, drop by drop, into the common receptacle. There was a hum,–a stir,–the subdued bustle of people putting their hands into their pockets; while, ever and anon, a vagrant coin fell upon the floor, and rolled away, with long reverberation, into some inscrutable corner.
#p#副标题#e#


At length, all having been favored with an opportunity to be generous, the two deacons placed their boxes on the communion-table, and thence, at the conclusion of the services, removed them into the vestry. Here these good old gentlemen sat down together, to reckon the accumulated treasure.

“Fie, fie, Brother Tilton,“ said Deacon Trott, peeping into Deacon Tilton’s box, “what a heap of copper you have picked up! Really, for an old man, you must have had a heavy job to lug it along. Copper! copper! copper! Do people expect to get admittance into heaven at the price of a few coppers?“

“Don’t wrong them, brother,“ answered Deacon Tilton, a simple and kindly old man. “Copper may do more for one person, than gold will for another. In the galleries, where I present my box, we must not expect such a harvest as you gather among the gentry in the broad aisle, and all over the floor of the church. My people are chiefly poor mechanics and laborers, sailors, seamstresses, and servant-maids, with a most uncomfortable intermixture of roguish school-boys.“

“Well, well,“ said Deacon Trott; “but there is a great deal, Brother Tilton, in the method of presenting a contribution-box. It is a knack that comes by nature, or not at all.“

They now proceeded to sum up the avails of the evening, beginning with the receipts of Deacon Trott. In good sooth, that worthy personage had reaped an abundant harvest, in which he prided himself no less, apparently, than if every dollar had been contributed from his own individual pocket. Had the good deacon been meditating a jaunt to Texas, the treasures of the mahogany box might have sent him on his way rejoicing. There were bank-notes, mostly, it is true, of the smallest denominations in the giver’s pocket-book, yet making a goodly average upon the whole. The most splendid contribution was a check for a hundred dollars, bearing the name of a distinguished merchant, whose liberality was duly celebrated in the newspapers of the next day. No less than seven half-eagles, together with an English sovereign, glittered amidst an indiscriminate heap of silver; the box being polluted with nothing of the copper kind, except a single bright new cent, wherewith a little boy had performed his first charitable act.

“Very well! very well indeed!“ said Deacon Trott, self-approvingly. “A handsome evening’s work! And now, Brother Tilton, let’s see whether you can match it.“ Here was a sad contrast! They poured forth Deacon Tilton’s treasure upon the table, and it really seemed as if the whole copper coinage of the country, together with an amazing quantity of shop-keeper’s tokens, and English and Irish half-pence, mostly of base metal, had been congregated into the box. There was a very substantial pencil-case, and the semblance of a shilling; but he latter proved to be made of tin, and the former of German-silver. A gilded brass button was doing duty as a gold coin, and a folded shopbill had assumed the character of a bank-note. But Deacon Tilton’s feelings were much revived by the aspect of another bank-note, new and crisp, adorned with beautiful engravings, and stamped with the indubitable word, TWENTY, in large black letters. Alas! it was a counterfeit. In short, the poor old Deacon was no less unfortunate than those who trade with fairies, and whose gains are sure to be transformed into dried leaves, pebbles, and other valuables of that kind.

“I believe the Evil One is in the box,“ said he, with some vexation.

“Well done, Deacon Tilton!“ cried his Brother Trott, with a hearty laugh. “You ought to have a statue in copper.“

“Never mind, brother,“ replied the good Deacon, recovering his temper. “I’ll bestow ten dollars from my own pocket, and may heaven’s blessing go along with it. But look! what do you call this?“
#p#副标题#e#


Under the copper mountain, which it had cost them so much toil to remove, lay an antique ring! It was enriched with a diamond, which, so soon as it caught the light, began to twinkle and glimmer, emitting the whitest and purest lustre that could possibly be conceived.–It was as brilliant as if some magician had condensed the brightest star in heaven into a compass fit to be set in a ring, for a lady’s delicate finger.

“How is this?“ said Deacon Trott, examining it carefully, in the expectation of finding it as worthless as the rest of his colleague’s treasure. “Why, upon my word, this seems to be a real diamond, and of the purest water. Whence could it have come?“

“Really, I cannot tell,“ quoth Deacon Tilton, “for my spectacles were so misty that all faces looked alike. But now I remember, there was a flash of light came from the box, at one moment; but it seemed a dusky red, instead of a pure white, like the sparkle of this gem. Well; the ring will make up for the copper; but I wish the giver had thrown its history into the box along with it.“

It has been our good luck to recover a portion of that history. After transmitting misfortune from one possessor to another, ever since the days of British Merlin, the identical ring which Queen Elizabeth gave to the Earl of Essex was finally thrown into the contribution-box of a New England church. The two deacons deposited it in the glass case of a fashionable jeweller, of whom it was purchased by the humble rehearser of this legend, in the hope that it may be allowed to sparkle on a fair lady’s finger. Purified from the foul fiend, so long its inhabitant, by a deed of unostentatious charity, and now made the symbol of faithful and devoted love, the gentle bosom of its new possessor need fear no sorrow from its influence.

Very pretty!–Beautiful!–How original!–How sweetly written!–What nature!–What imagination!–What power!–What pathos!–What exquisite humor!“–were the exclamations of Edward Caryl’s kind and generous auditors, at the conclusion of the legend.

“It is a pretty tale,“ said Miss Pemberton, who, conscious that her praise was to that of all others as a diamond to a pebble, was therefore the less liberal in awarding it. “It is really a pretty tale, and very proper for any of the Annuals. But, Edward, your moral does not satisfy me. What thought did you embody in the ring?“

“O Clara, this is too bad!“ replied Edward, with a half-reproachful smile. “You know that I can never separate the idea from the symbol in which it manifests itself. However, we may suppose the Gem to be the human heart, and the Evil Spirit to be Falsehood, which, in one guise or another, is the fiend that causes all the sorrow and trouble in the world. I beseech you to let this suffice.“

“It shall,“ said Clara, kindly. “And, believe me, whatever the world may say of the story, I prize it far above the diamond which enkindled your imagination.“

 “真的,这宝石亮得就像星星,镶嵌得也很巧妙。“克拉拉•彭伯顿小姐细细看着未婚夫一番甜言蜜语之后,送给她的一只古老戒指。“只差一样就十全十美了。“

“差什么?“爱德华•卡里尔先生暗暗盼望礼物得到称许。

“是不是差个摩登底座?“

“哦,不是!那可一下子就破坏了这东西的魅力。“克拉拉回答,“什么也不缺,只缺一个故事。真想知道这东西充当情人间爱的信物已有多少次,并且随它而来的那些誓言是得到遵守,还是时常遭践踏。我倒不是特别看重事实,你要是对这戒指的真正历史不了解,反而更好。说不定它曾在哪位女王的手指上闪耀过光彩呢?没准儿波斯特休莫斯从伊莫金①手里得到的就正是它呢?一句话,你一定得用这颗钻石的光华点燃自己的想象力,编出个故事来。“

--------

①典出莎士比亚戏剧《辛白林》。波斯特休莫斯(Posthumus)是位阮囊羞涩却高尚可敬的绅士,与辛白林的女儿伊莫金(lmogen)秘密成婚。

这个任务——克拉拉当然知道——正中爱德华下怀。他正是那群青年绅士中的一位——说他们是法律的大树枝,倒不如说是些小桠杈——尊姓大名镀着金出现在都铎王朝①时代的建筑门脸上,及大法院附近的一带。这些地方似乎是更温柔或更冷酷的缪斯②女神们时常光顾之地,爱德华因缺少顾客光临,惯于将大量闲暇用来支持发展美洲文学,为这个美好事业贡献了不止几迭精美信笺,抒发他的思想呵、想象呵、感情呵,外加青年作家的一大堆自负。十四行诗、甜蜜的丁尼生③体、日耳曼神话故事、让•保罗④的译本、对英国老一代诗人的评论、一股《太阳仪》⑤哲学风味的小品文,都是他五花八门的大作。时髦刊物的编辑们熟悉他的笔迹,把他的大名列入那些才华横溢的作家的名单,点缀刊物的扉页。名声也对他毫不吝啬桂冠。希拉德在其《波士顿书》中将他列为新英格兰名人;布莱恩特⑥的《美国诗歌选》为他的诗行留下篇幅;格里沃尔德⑦新近编纂的诗歌集中,将他介绍为八十位最佳诗人之一。的确,此君前途无量,大有希望获得更高更独立的地位。《蒂克纳》杂志已约见他,《哈珀斯》期刊与他通信联络,建议考虑出版一卷专集,主要收入两家刊物上卡里尔先生的即兴作品,不过还须加上一首从未发表过的长诗,读者大众大约不会不满意这个集子吧。

--------

①都铎王朝:指1485年至1603年间的英国王朝,统治者为亨利七世、亨利八世、爱德华六世、玛丽女王及伊丽莎白一世。

②缪斯(Muses):希腊神话中司文学、艺术、科学等的九女神,也用来喻指诗歌、艺术、文学。

③丁尼生(艾尔弗雷德•丁尼生Alfred Tennyson,1809—1892):英国大诗人,1850—1892为桂冠诗人。

④让•保罗(让•保罗•里克特Jean Paul Richter,1863—1825):以让•保罗的名字著称于世,德国著名小说家。

⑤《太阳仪》(Dial):1840年创刊于新英格兰的一份杂志,为超验主义运动的机关刊物。主要创刊者有西奥多•帕克、玛格丽特•富勒,R•W•爱默生等。

⑥布莱恩特(威廉•卡伦•布莱恩特William Cullen Bryant,1794—1878):美国19世纪浪漫主义诗歌创始人。

⑦格里斯沃尔德(鲁弗斯•威尔莫特•格里斯沃尔德Rufas Wilmot Grist Awold,1815—1857):美国评论家与编辑,主编的作品主要有《19世纪英国诗人诗歌》,《美国诗人与诗歌》、《美国散文作家》、《美国女诗人》等。

与此同时,让咱们总括一下爱德华•卡里尔,宣布他为文学事业中的无功受禄者,但又算得上新一代作家中不讨人嫌的一位。咱们有理由期待他们全都令人称道地努力奋斗,其中一些人必然创作出一批美好作品。而爱德华正是应一位女士要求,为一只老式钻石戒指写出一篇动人故事的恰当人选。他将戒指拿在手中,转来转去,捕捉那耀眼的光芒,仿佛照克拉拉的建议,巴望能用它星星一般的闪光,点燃自己的想象力。

“要民歌还是要叙事诗?“他问,“富于魔力的戒指常常在古老的英诗中光彩照人,我想这个题材还能用。不过韵文比散文更合适。“

“不,不,“彭伯顿小姐道,“这戒指上有一句题诗就足够了。你且用明白的散文来写这故事吧。等你写完,我就开个小茶会,请大家来听听你朗读。“

青年绅士答应照办。他上床躺下,满脑子熟悉的精灵鬼怪,都是缠住戒指呀、怀表呀、剑鞘呀之类东西不放的幽灵。他运气不错,总能在梦中得到某种启发,将这梦中启示与自己碰巧了解到的关于这戒指的一些真实历史凑到一起,便大功告成。于是,克拉拉•彭伯顿请来几位最要好的朋友,统统对爱德华的天才深信不疑。所以,这位大作家就得到了一些即便算不上最公正的评论家,也堪称最友好的听众,来祝福那些钦佩男人的女士们,尤其祝福她们以心相许的劲头。而男人们,至多用他们的脑筋冷静地表示赞赏!

爱德华•卡里尔把椅子拉近一盏太阳灯,打开一卷光滑的纸,开始朗读:
#p#副标题#e#
一个传说

死刑执行前夜,埃塞克斯伯爵听过了死刑判决书,什鲁斯伯里伯爵夫人前来探监,发现伯爵大人孩子似地把玩着一只戒指。戒指上的钻石小星般光芒四射,不过发出的只有红光。伦敦塔内阴森森的牢房,四面石壁上高而狭小的窗户,便是伯爵大人拥有的全部人间景象。难怪他这么目不转睛地盯着那只钻戒,对世间欺人的辉煌发上一通道德高论。人遭到毁灭性的打击,身处绝境之时往往如此。但是伯爵夫人目光锐利——此人装作埃塞克斯的朋友,但此行目的却是为了伯爵早已忘却的一次轻蔑,一快自己的报复之心。她精明地发现这只钻戒不同凡响,甚至伯爵为她还记得一位遭到毁灭的受宠者,一名被判死刑的罪犯,而表示感激之时,目光也不曾离开那戒指片刻,好像时间与世事存留的一切都集中在那个小小的金玩意儿上了。

“亲爱的伯爵,“伯爵夫人道,“这戒指肯定特别重要,这么迷住你的心。是哪个漂亮女人爱情的信物吧?——唉,可怜的女人,占有过这样一颗心,该是多么富有!你打算把这东西还给她么?“

“女王!女王!这是女王陛下亲自送给我的礼物,“伯爵仍专注地盯着那颗钻石。“她从自己手指上取下来,微笑着对我说,这是她都铎祖先的一件传家宝,曾为不列颠巫师墨林①所有,他将它送给了心爱的女人。墨林施展魔法,使这颗钻石成为一个精灵的居所。这精灵虽属妖孽,却被魔法管束,只要戒指作为赠送与接受的双方爱情与忠实的信物,它就只会做好事。但如果爱情遭到背叛,不再忠实,邪恶的精灵就会任性作乱,直到这戒指成为某种善良高尚行为的工具,再度成为忠实爱情的信物。然而钻石不久就失去了魔力,因为巫师本人就被得到他戒指的女人谋杀了。“

--------

①墨林(Merlin):英格兰古代传说中的预言家及魔法师,亚瑟王的助手,法力无边。

“无稽之谈!“伯爵夫人道。
#p#副标题#e#
“不错,“埃塞克斯忧伤地一笑,“不过,女王的宠信——这戒指就是象征——倒证明真是我的祸根。大限临头,人只好跟梦境、鬼魂交谈。我一直盯着这只戒指看,心想——你也许会笑话我——心想没准儿能看到住在里头的精灵。你注意这红光了么?——在这亮晃晃的光芒中,它有点儿发暗,这说明精灵就在里头。甚至此刻,我看这光也变得越来越红,越来越深,活像愤怒的落日。“

然而,伯爵的神气却显示出他对戒指的魔力并不以为然。绝望之时,人都会有些玩世不恭,因为彻底感受到不幸的现实将立刻粉碎自己的灵魂。此刻,伯爵陷入沉思,而伯爵夫人则幸灾乐祸,盯住他不放。

“这个戒指,“伯爵换了口气接着说,“是我的王家情人对她的奴仆滥施恩宠的唯一存证。我的运气曾灿烂如宝石,如今黑暗却笼罩我全身,我看这钻石的光芒——这牢房中唯一的光——很快就熄灭也不足为怪。我在人世的最后一线希望都指望它啦。“

“伯爵大人,你感觉如何?“什鲁斯伯里伯爵夫人问,“宝石光辉灿烂,可在这悲惨的时刻,要是它还能使你心存希望,就该具有奇妙的魔力呀。可惜哟!伦敦塔这些铁栏杆的石头堡垒好像不理会这种魔力。“

埃塞克斯不自觉地抬起头,因为伯爵夫人的口气颇有些令他不安,虽然他并未怀疑一名仇敌已闯入他牢房的神圣领地,对他一度灿若晨星的好运彻底毁灭而得意洋洋。他注视着她的面孔,却没发现什么令人生疑之处。要读懂一张面孔恐怕需要一双比塞西尔①更锐利的眼睛。这张面孔处于宫廷虚伪的显赫之中已如此长久,如今几乎等同面具,除了真话什么都讲得出。被判死刑的贵人再次低头看他的戒指,接着说——

--------

①塞西尔(威廉•塞西尔,WiliamCecil,1520—1598):英格兰政治家,英国女王伊丽莎白一世的首席顾问,拥有男爵头衔。

“这颗明亮的宝石曾具有魔力,这魔力属于伟大女王宠信的护身法宝。她吩咐过我,假若从今往后我失宠于她——不论程度多深,罪过多大——只要把这只戒指带给她看,就算为我求情了。毫无疑问,她目光敏锐,当初就已发觉我生性鲁莽,料到我会造孽招来杀身之祸。而且她知道——也许她有意如此——她血脉里带来的严峻,在我最需要的时候,会因过去温柔亲切的时光,而为我化作柔肠。我怀疑过——不信过——可谁知道,即使现在,这戒指会不会带来什么令人欢欣的影响?“

“你耽搁太久啦,早该送上这只戒指,请求陛下宽容饶恕的,“伯爵夫人道——“眼下事已至此,无法挽回了。“

“的确,“伯爵道,“就为了保全面子,我不愿请求女王宽恕。本来至少可以在法律面前留条性命。要是贵族们审判我时,宣布我并未犯有图谋加害陛下神圣生命的大罪,当时我就会跪倒在她脚下,献上这只戒指,祈求她以最严厉的手段考验我的爱与忠诚。可如今,仅仅以被陛下认为是我伪装的柔情为理由,去乞求保留我性命的悲惨赏赐——太露骨啦——太卑贱啦!“

“可这是你唯一的希望。“伯爵夫人道。

“况且,“埃塞克斯追循着自己的思路,“这个女人感情的象征又有多大功效?面对国家政策势不可挡的全部意图,廷臣们五花八门的阴谋诡计,必欲置我于死地而后快。就算她并不具有她父亲的精神,塞西尔与罗利①能听任她感情用事么?希望也白搭哟。“

--------

①罗利(瓦尔特•罗利爵士SirWalterRaleigh,1552—1618):英国政治家、诗人、散文作家,一度为英国女王伊丽莎白的宠臣,1592年失宠,据说原因是诱奸了女王的一名侍女。几度起落之后,被詹姆斯一世判处死刑。

可是,埃塞克斯仍全神贯注地盯着那戒指,表明他乐观自信的个性全都集中于此。茫茫人世,除却这只金色小圆环之外,他已一无所有。那钻石闪烁的光芒比尘世的火焰更强烈,正是他毕生事业灿烂的回忆。它并未因情人宠信之光的暗淡而变得苍白。恰恰相反,尽管它发出引人注目的暗红色光芒,他仍认为这宝石比任何时候都更为明亮。欢乐火把的光芒——散发芳香的明灯——为他点燃的堆堆篝火,想当初他曾是百姓拥戴的大人物——是王室宫廷的辉煌明星——这一切一切的荣耀仿佛统统集于这颗钻石一身,点染着未来的光辉,集中着往日的璀灿,光芒四射。这辉煌也许还会再度闪耀,冲出此刻凝聚其中的钻石,先照亮伦敦塔阴暗的牢房——然后越来越大,越来越大,越来越大——直到照亮整个英格兰的国土及它四周悬崖峭壁下的所有海域。紧跟长久沮丧之后的,时常是这种热烈的狂喜,它所预告的正是凡人最凄惨的末日。伯爵把戒指紧贴胸口,仿佛真把它看作护身的法宝,精灵的居所,照女王向他开玩笑保证的那样——不过这精灵具有的魔力比女王所讲的要令人愉快得多。
#p#副标题#e#
“哦,但愿我能找到她的垫脚凳前!“他在牢房的石地上急躁地踱着,把手扬得高高,“我会跪下去,真的,我这个被毁灭,被判砍头的人。可我如何重新崛起?再度成为伊丽莎白的宠臣!——英格兰最得意的贵族!——拥有雄心从未瞄准的无限前途!干嘛在这令人恶心的牢房中延宕这么久?这戒指具有让我自由的力量!朝廷需要我!喂,看守,打开牢门!“

但他忽然想到,要见那位已形同路人的情人,验证验证自以为仍拥有的对她感情的影响,根本不可能。只要能走出牢房的禁锢一步,世界就充满阳光。但关在里头,就只有黑暗与死亡,“唉!“他喟然长叹,头一垂,双手捧住,“就因为少一句可恨的话,我只有一死!“

什鲁斯伯里伯爵夫人,沉浸于伯爵扑朔迷离的幻想,忘了自己。最多疑的观察者也不会疑心她深表关切的面容,除非她目睹死到临头的慷慨汉子情绪大起大落,还能保持无动于衷。她走到他身旁。

“我的好伯爵,“她说,“你打算怎么办?“

“什么也不办——全完了!“伯爵心灰意冷。“不过倒霉蛋要是还有什么朋友,我会求他把这戒指送到女王脚下的,尽管除此之外,希望甚微。它也许能使陛下想起可怜的埃塞克斯,往日倍受宠信,到头来却惨遭惩罚。“

“我愿做这位朋友,“伯爵夫人道,“机不可失,把这宝贵的戒指交给我吧。今夜女王的眼睛就会看到它,无须我苦苦求情,它自会起作用的。“

伯爵的头一个反应是交出戒指,但打量一番弯腰来接戒指的伯爵夫人,他感到戒指的红光映红了她的脸,使这面孔带上不祥的神情。往事历历涌上心头,也许人之将死才拥有异乎寻常的洞察力,刹那间流星般照亮了他的处境。

“伯爵夫人,“他道,“我不知为何犹豫不决,既然已身处绝境,又简直无法选择朋友。可你审视过自己内心么?你能完成这使命么?能实话实说——恳切热诚,甚至流下眼泪,感到痛苦——用这些来恳求陛下赐给一个人宝贵的生命么?要是你接受这使命却对我背信弃义,就让你天打五雷轰!看在你灵魂的份上,想想你临死前的安宁,好好考虑考虑以什么心情接受这只戒指!“

伯爵夫人没有退缩。

“伯爵!——我善良的伯爵大人!“她叫道,“别用怀疑冤枉一个女人的心。你可以选择另一个信使,可除了陛下卧房的女侍,谁这么晚了还能接近女王?这可是为了你的性命——

为了你性命——不然我才不会再次提出帮忙。“

“把戒指拿去。“伯爵道。

“相信我,再过一点钟,这东西就会到女王的手中。“伯爵夫人接过性命攸关的神圣信托,“明天一早专等我干预的结果吧。“

她走了,伯爵重新充满希望。入睡后好梦连绵,不再是塔院中可怕的断头台,却是堂皇的华盖,谄媚的大臣,壮丽辉煌,女王的微笑再度温文可亲,魔法的宝石发出光芒,照亮了他的整个前程。

历史记录了什鲁斯伯里伯爵夫人在埃塞克斯最困难的时刻,如何辜负他的重托,无耻地背信弃义。她留下了戒指,那夜就侍立在女王面前,却没有为那位往日的宠臣说上一句好话,以打动女王陛下天生的冷酷心肠。第二天,伯爵高贵的头颅滚落在断头台上。最后,歹毒的伯爵夫人临死之前,被自己灵魂的沉重罪恶所折磨,派人请来女王,说出了戒指的事情,乞求陛下宽恕她欺君之罪。但即算女王对往日的无情懊悔痛心,却依然心如铁石。她摇撼着那躺在床上快要咽气的女人,仿佛欲与死神争夺报仇雪恨的权利。伯爵夫人灵魂出壳,去接受更高审判的处罚或怜悯。据说人们发现那只不吉利的戒指就在她胸口,已在那儿烙上了一个深深的红印,像是滚烫的东西灼烧而成。殡殓尸体的人们为之发抖,相互窃窃私语,说这戒指一定是被地狱之火烧得滚热。人们就让它留在死者胸口,盛入棺材。于是戒指与这个罪孽的女人一道埋入坟墓。

多年之后,收容什鲁斯伯里家族遗骨的教堂遭到克伦威尔①士兵的洗劫。他们闯入这家祖先的墓窖,从长眠此地的贵人们身上偷走了一切值钱的东西。墨林的古老戒指落入铁甲军一位粗壮的军士手中,结果成为深居钻石的精灵邪恶魔法的牺牲品。很快,这名军士便丧生沙场,而戒指未经任何合法遗嘱又落入一名寻欢作乐的保王党手中。此人立刻把它当掉,把钱挥霍于灌黄汤,结果快快地使自己一命呜呼。后来,这只魔法戒指又在查理二世②王朝不同时期数次闪耀光彩。但厄运始终伴它而来。不论这只倒霉的戒指落到谁手里,不论它戴在何人指上;不论男人与男人之间,男人与女人之间尔虞我诈,违背誓言,还是亵渎感情;不论它落入老爷太太还是村姑之手——有时它竟变得十分卑贱——给人们带来的都只有悲伤与耻辱。没有任何洗清罪恶的行为来赶走以这颗明亮的小星星为家的邪恶精灵。后来,罗伯特•沃波尔③伯爵当政时期,我们又再度听说了它。沃波尔伯爵从众多更贵重的珠宝中挑出它来,赠给了一位英国议员夫人,一心暗中破坏人家的政治名誉。戒指的其它种种冒险都有一段凄惨悲哀的故事。岁月沧桑,它不祥的暗红色愈来愈深,愈来愈黑,直到有一天把它放到白纸上,就会露出夜与血的色彩,奇妙地光芒四射,把周围一圈都照亮。但这一点只使得它愈发贵重无双。

--------

①克伦威尔(奥利弗•克伦威尔OliverCromwell,1599—1658):英国清教徒领袖,1653—1658任护国主,领导英国资产阶级革命。

②查理二世(CharlesⅡ1630—1685):英王查理一世之子,1660—85在位。

③罗伯特•沃波尔(RobertWalpole,1676—1745):英国政治家,辉格党领袖,两度出任英国首相。
#p#副标题#e#
可悲哟,祸水似的戒指!何时它骇人的秘密才能昭然天下?而一个又一个得到它的人的厄运何时方能消除?

故事如今越过大西洋,来到我们美洲人的时代。不久之前的一个夜晚,在咱们这儿的一座教堂里,正为一项慈善事业募捐。热情洋溢的传教士滔滔不绝,发表了一番动人议论,至少令许多听众潸然泪下,甚至引起更大共鸣。唱诗班歌声甜蜜,风琴倾泄着如雷的旋律。执事们在通道与楼座之间来回走,递上乌木箱。人人都朝里头丢着放心献给上帝的钱,一救人间苦难。慈善之心赫然可闻——叮当、叮当、叮当——接二连三坠入共同的钱箱。只听一片人声——一阵骚动——人们纷纷把手伸进自己口袋,时不时会有一块迷路的钱币滚到地板上,滚跑了,一路发出回声,溜进哪个不可知的角落。

最后,所有的人都得到了表现慷慨的机会。两位执事将钱箱放到圣餐台上,礼拜完毕再搬进法衣室。两位善良的老执事就在这里坐下来,清点募集到的钱财。

“呸,呸,蒂尔顿老兄,“特罗特执事觑一眼蒂尔顿执事的钱箱,“瞧你弄到多大一堆铜板!真的,这一把年纪,抱着它走肯定够沉的。铜板!铜板!铜板!这帮人难道指望丢几个铜板就能进天堂?“

“别冤枉人家,老弟,“蒂尔顿执事朴实厚道。“有时候铜板比金币给人的好处更大咧。我是在楼座传钱箱,不能指望跟所有坐在宽敞厅堂的体面人收获一样。我碰上的都是些穷手艺人、劳工、水手、女裁缝、女佣人,中间还混着一群顽皮的小学生。“

“得啦,得啦,“特罗特执事道,“蒂尔顿老兄,传递奉献箱学问大着哩,要么生来有道行,要么一窍不通。“

二人动手点起钱来。先从特罗特的箱子开始。说真的,这个能人收获丰厚,他那乐不可支的神气,就好像每块钱都是从他自己腰包贡献出来的一样。即使这位呱呱叫的执事打算横贯全国,到得克萨斯玩上一趟,这乌木箱里的钱也够他开开心心地花一番。全是纸币。当然,大多是捐献者钱包中最小的面额,但集中起来数目就可观啦。最大一笔捐款是一张100美元的支票,签着一位名声显赫的商人大名。明天的报纸上自然会颂扬一番此公的慷慨解囊。一大堆相似的银币中还有七块五元金币,外加一块英格兰金印,闪闪发光。这箱子可没被铜板弄脏,除了一块崭崭新的分币,这是个小娃娃头一回的善举。

“了不起!真了不起!“特罗特执事自夸自赞,“一晚上就募集这么多!好啦,蒂尔顿老兄,瞧瞧你的能相比么。“伤心的对比!蒂尔顿箱子里的宝贝往桌上一倒,真好像这个国家所有的铜板,加上一大堆小店主的小毫子,英格兰,爱尔兰的半便士,多为贱金属,统统跑到这箱子里来聚会了。倒有只模样周正的铅笔盒,还有块颇像先令的钱币,可细细一看,后者是锡作的,前者是锌白铜。一只镀金铜钮扣冒充金币,一张双折的帐单假装纸币。不过蒂尔顿执事心情为之一振,因为发现一张簇新响脆的纸币,有着美丽的水印,还毫不含糊地印着黑体大字“二十“。可惜,是张假币。一句话,可怜的老执事并不比那些与仙人做交易的人有运气。这些人到手的钱一下子就变成了枯叶、卵石,诸如此类值钱的东西。

“我看魔鬼一定钻进了箱子。“他不由气恼地说。

“干得不错,蒂尔顿老兄!“特罗特哈哈大笑,“满可以用铜板给自己造一座雕像嘛。“

“甭担心,老弟,“诚实的执事心平气和,“我从自己口袋掏十块钱好了,愿上帝的祝福与它同在。嘿,你瞧!这是什么?“

在这堆铜板下头,两人花好大劲才一块块挪开,躺着一只古老的戒指!还镶着一粒钻石,乍见天日就闪闪烁烁,发出想象得到的最洁白的光芒。它光彩夺目,仿佛哪位魔法师摘下了天上的明星,将它缩小再缩小,嵌入戒指,好戴到一位小姐的玉手上。

“怎么回事?“特罗特翻来覆去地看,料想这东西跟它的同伙一样不值钱。咦,我敢发誓,这好像是颗真钻石嘛,而且水色纯净。会从哪儿来的呢?“

“真的,我也说不上。“蒂尔顿道,“我的眼镜模模糊糊,所有人的脸看起来都差不多。不过,这会子想起来了,是有道光掉进箱子,可好像是暗红色,不是这颗宝石的纯白色呀。好啦,这戒指能补上铜板的价值。不过,真希望捐献者把它的历史也一道扔进了这只箱子。“

咱们运气不错,还获悉了一部分这段历史。自从不列颠的墨林巫师开始,这戒指就不断转手易人。伊丽莎白女王给埃塞克斯伯爵的这件赠物,终于被丢进新英格兰的一只教会奉献箱。两位执事把它存入一位时髦珠宝商的玻璃柜,而朗读本故事的鄙人,则从珠宝商手中买下它来,但愿它能在一位美丽小姐的手上闪烁光芒。由于一件不事夸张的善行,戒指上长期盘踞的邪恶精灵已被驱除,如今又变成忠实爱情的信物。新主人温柔的胸怀从此不必再为它担惊受怕。

“太妙了!——美极了!——真是独出心裁!——写得太棒了!多好的哲理!——多出色的想象力!——真有力!——真动人!——真幽默!“爱德华•卡里尔慷慨厚道的听众们,听完故事后连声赞美。

“故事不错,“彭伯顿小姐心里明白,她的赞扬与其他所有人相比,才是钻石对石头,所以没那么慷慨大方。“的确不错,登上哪份年鉴都合适。不过,爱德华,你的哲理还不尽人意,你想以这戒指体现什么思想呢?“

“哦,克拉拉,太可惜了!“爱德华嗔怪地一笑,“你知道我绝不能把思想与体现这思想的象征割裂开来。不过,咱们可以这么看,这颗钻石就好比人心,而邪恶的精灵则代表虚伪。它不论以什么面目出现,都是给人间带来悲伤烦恼的万恶之源。但愿你对这个解释感到满意。“

“好吧,“克拉拉宽宏大量,“相信我,不论世人对这故事如何评说,我可把它看得比激发你想象力的这颗钻石更加宝贵。“