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Dark Angle(翻译连载六)

(2009-09-24 09:05:17)





分类: UNCLE赵&他国际事务部的同事们

This was achieved, in the end. Steenie went as he would have liked, propped up against silk pillows, amusing one moment, dead the next.


But that sudden departure came at the end of a long three months, months during which even Steenie’s capacity to perform sometimes failed him. He was not in pain—we saw to that—but, as the doctors had warned, those morphine cocktails did have strange effects. They took Steenie back into the past, and what he saw there made him weep.


He would try to convey to me what he saw, talking and talking, often late into the night. His compulsion to make me see what he saw was very great. I sat with him; I held his hand; I listened. He was the last but one of my family left. I knew he wanted to give me the gift of the past, before it was too late.


It was often difficult, though, to understand what he said. The words were clear enough. But the events he described were scrambled. Morphine made Steenie a traveler through time; it gave him the facility to move forward and back, to pass from a recent conversation to another some twenty years before as if they happened the same day, in the same place.


He spoke of my parents and my grandparents, but only the names were familiar, for as Steenie spoke of them they were unrecognizable to me. This was not the father I remembered, nor the mother. The Constance he spoke of was a stranger.


One point: Some of Steenie’s memories were benign; some, quite clearly, were not. Steenie saw, in these shadows, things that made him shake. He would grasp my hand, start up in the bed, peer about the room, address specters he saw and I did not.


This made me afraid. I was unsure if it was the morphine speaking. As you will see in due course, I had grown up with certain puzzles that had never been resolved, puzzles that dated from the time of my own birth and my christening. I had outgrown those puzzles, I thought. I had put them behind me. My uncle Steenie brought them rushing back.


Such a whirl of words and images: Uncle Steenie might speak of croquet one minute, comets the next. He spoke often of the Winterscombe woods—a subject to which he would return with increasing and incomprehensible emphasis. He also spoke—and then I was almost sure it was the morphine—of violent death.


I think Wexton, who witnessed some of this, understood it better than I did, but he explained nothing. He remained quiet, resilient, restrict—waiting for death.
















Steenie叔叔会说一直说croquet大概一分钟,然后说comets。他经常说着说着就说到Winterscombe woods,带着一种无法理解却又不断增加的强调。他还常说到猝死,所以我几乎可以确定那是吗啡的作用。






There are two days of serenity and lucidity before it came, days in which Steenie gathered himself, I thought, for the final assault. Then he died, as I say, with a merciful speed. Wexton said Steenie willed himself away, and I thought my uncle was indomitable, I loved him, and Wexton was right.

So—would you describe that as easy? I looked at Vickers, then avoided his eyes. I felt that Steenie, trying to stage-manage his farewell performance, would have wanted me to emphasize its bravura aspects.

Avoid those episodes in the wings. Be careful.

“He . . . kept up appearances,” I said.

This seemed to please Vickers, or to relieve his guilt. He sighed.

“Oh, good.”

“He was in bed, of course. In his room at Winterscombe. You remember that room…

“Dar-ling, who could forget it? Quite preposterous. His father would have had a fit.””

“He wore his silk pajamas. Lavender ones, on the days the doctors came-- you know how he liked to shock--”

Vickers smiled. “Makeup? Don’t tell me he kept up with that…”

“Just a little. Quite discreet, for Steenie. He said…he said if he was going to shake hands with death, he intended to look his best--”

“Don’t be upset. Steenie would have hated you to be upset.” Vickers sounded almost kind. “Tell me – it does help to talk, you know. I’ve learned that. One of the penalties of age: All one’s friends – at the party one minute, absent the next. Steenie and I were the same age, you know. Sixty-eight. Not that that’s old exactly, these days. Still. . .” He paused. “Did he talk about me at all, at the end?”















“A bit,” I replied, deciding to forgive him the egotism. In fact Steenie had scarcely spoken of Vickers. I hesitated. “He liked to talk. He drank the Bollinger—I’d saved some. He smoked those terrible black Russian cigarettes. He read poems--”

“Wexton’s poem?” Vickers had regarded Wexton as a rival. He made a face.

“mostly Wexton’s. and his letters—old photograph albums…it was odd. The recent past didn’t interest him at all. He wanted to go further back. To his childhood, to Winterscombe the way it used to be. He talked a lot about my grandparents, and his brothers. My father, of course.” Paused. “And constance.”

“Ah, constance. I suppose he would. Steenie always adored her. The rest of your family”—Vickers gave a small, slightly malicious smile—“I should have said they weren’t too frightfully keen. Your aunt Maud loathed her, of course, and your mother—well, I always heard she’d more or less banished her from Winterscombe. I never found out why. Quite a little mystery there, I always thought. Did Steenie mention that?”

“No,” I replied, untruthfully, and if Vickers noticed the evasion he gave no sign. He poured more champagne. Something, the reference to Wexton perhaps, had ruffled him a little I thought. Quite suddenly he seemed to tire of the subject of my uncle. He stood up and began to sift through the pile of photographs that lay on the table at his side.











“Speaking of Constance, look at this! I came across it just the other day. I’d quite forgotten I ever took it. My earliest work. The first photograph I ever did of her—terribly posed, too artificial, dated, I suppose, but all the same, I might use it in the retrospective. It has something, don’t you think?” He held up a large black-and-white print. “Nineteen sixteen – which means I was sixteen, and so was Constance, though she subtracts the years now, of course. Look at this. Did you ever see this before? Doesn’t she look extraordinary?”

I looked at the photograph. It was new to me, and Constance did indeed look extraordinary. It was, as Vickers said, highly artificial, very much in the fashion of its time and quite unlike his later work. The young Constance lay posed on what appeared to be a bier, draped in heavy white material, perhaps satin. Only her hands, which clasped a flower, and her head were visible; the rest of her body was wrapped and draped as if in a shroud. Her black hair, long then – I had never seen Constance with long hair – had been combed out from her face. Shocking in its luxuriance, as Vickers had no doubt intended, it brushed the floor. Constance lay in profile; a band of contrived light sharpened the strong planes of her face, so that her features, undeniably arresting even then, became a painterly composition, a pattern of light and dark. Black lashes made a crescent against a wide, high, almost Slavic cheekbone. Oddly, since her eyes (which were almost black) were Constance’s most famous feature, Vickers had chosen to photograph her with them shut.

“La Belle Dame sans merci.” Vickers, who was recovering, gave a high, whinnying laugh. “That was what I called it. Well, one did things like that then. Constance on a bier, the Sitwells on biers – nothing but biers for a whole year, which went down terribly badly, of course, because it was the middle of the first war, and people said it was decadent. Useful, though, all that outrage.” He gave me a small glance. “It made me into an enfant terrible, always the best way to start. People forget I was ever that, now I’m a grand old man. So I thought I’d use this, in the exhibition, just to remind them. Oh, and her wedding photographs of course. They’re too divine.”








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