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孔已己(Kong Yiji)

(2010-05-25 20:25:22)
标签:

孔已己

茴香豆

站着喝酒

穿长衫

分类: 英语沙龙

Kong Yiji (translated by Julia Lovell))

 

The taverns in Luzhen were rather particular in their layout. Facing out to the street was a substantial bar, squared off at the corners, behind which hot water was always at the ready for warming up wine. Lunchtime or evening, when they got off work, the town’s labourers would drift in, each with their four coppers ready to buy a bowl of warmed wine (this was twenty years ago, remember; now it would cost them ten), then drink it at the bar, taking their ease. An extra copper would buy them a bowl of salted bamboo shoots, or of aniseed beans, to go with it. If their budgets stretched to ten coppers or more, a meat dish would be within their reach. But such extravagance was generally beyond the means of short-jacketed manual labourers. Only those dressed in the long scholar’s gowns that distinguished those who worked with their heads from those who worked with their hands made for a more sedate, inner room, to enjoy their wine and food sitting down.

 

When I was eleven, I was taken on as assistant-barman at the Universal Prosperity, at the edge of town. But the manager said I looked too dull to wait on his prized long-gowned customers, and deployed me instead around the main bar. Though I found the regulars easy enough to talk to, they were also quite capable of making life difficult for me. They would insist on watching the yellow liquor being ladled out of its jar, checking for water in the bottom of their wine kettles, hawkishly scrutinizing the progress of the kettle as it was lowered into its warming surround of hot water. Supervision as exacting as this made watering down the wine something of a challenge, and after a few days, the manager retired me from this line of work, too. Fortunately, the connection who had wangled me the position was too powerful for the manager to sack me outright; all the same, he kept my duties as tediously simple as possible—warming the wine.

 

All day, every day I spent behind the bar, devoting myself to this task—bored senseless, even though I never made any mistakes. The manager had a terrible temper, and out customers weren’t a particularly civil bunch either, so fun tended to be thin on the ground—except when Kong Yiji rolled up, which is why I still remember him.

 

Kong Yiji was the only long-gowned drinker who took his wine standing up. He was a great lanky fellow, his peaky white face pitted with scars and wrinkles and fringed by an untidy grey beard. His gown was filthy and torn, as if it hadn’t been mended or washed for over a decade. His speech was so dusty with classical constructions you could barely understand him. Kong Yiji wasn’t even his real name: it was the first few characters—kong, yi, ji—in the older primer that children used for learning to write. Kong was his surname, all right, but someone somewhere must have once rattled humorously on with yi and ji and the nick name stuck. ‘Another scar, Kong Yiji?’ the assembled company would laugh the moment he arrived in the tavern. ‘Two bowls of wine, warm, and a plate of aniseed beans,’ he would order, ignoring his hecklers and lining nine coppers up on the bar. The provocatively raucous chorus would begin once more: ‘Stealing again?’ ‘Groundless calumny…unimpeachable virtue.’ Kong Yiji’s eye would bulge with outrage. ‘well, that’s funny, because just the day before yesterday I was you getting strung up and beaten for stealing a book from the Hos.’ Kong’s face would flush scarlet, the veins on his forehead throbbing in the heat of discomfort. ‘Stealing books is no crime! Is scholarship theft?’ he would argue back, illustrating his point with a perplexing smatter of archaisms: ‘poverty and learning, oft twixt by jowl’, etcetera, etcetera. At which everyone inside (and outside) the tavern would collapse with mirth. Kong Yiji truly brought with him the gift of laughter.

 

Somewhere in the distant past, the story went, Kong Yiji had received a classical education, but it had never got him past even the lowest grade of the imperial civil service examination. Since he had no head for any other kind of business, he grew steadily poorer until he was on the point of having to beg for food. Fortunately, he had a good wiring hand—he could have scraped by, copying out books. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the temperament for this, or indeed any work, preferring drinking to all other occupations. And after a few days at any one job, he would simply vanish—along with the books, paper, brush and ink. Once this had happened a few times, the copying work dried up, forcing Kong Yiji to fall back on periodic acts of theft as his only means of livelihood. All the same, his standing in the tavern was better than most—he never fell seriously into debt. Though occasionally he might turn up without ready money, his name would generally be wiped from the credit slate within a month.

 

After half a bowl of wine, the flush had usually receded from Kong Yiji’s face, inviting bystanders to try something else: ‘ Can you really really read, Kong Yiji? A look of scorn from their victim. Next: ‘How come you never managed to pass an exam?’ This tended to hit home: his face would turn a defeated grey, as he launched into another incomprehensibly classical splutter. At which universal merriment would again prevail.

 

I could join in the fun without fear of rebuke from the manager. In fact, whenever Kong Yiji turned up, the manager was often the one doing the asking, just to raise a laugh. Recognizing that he’d never get the better of them, Kong Yiji concentrated his conversational efforts on any minors he encountered about the premises. ‘Ever been to school?’ he once asked me. I gave a slight nod. ‘Hmmm…here’s a quick test. How do you write aniseed?’ What right did he--a beggar—have to test me, I thought. I turned away, ignoring him. ‘You don’t know?’ Kong Yiji persevered, after a long pause. ‘I’ll show you. Don’t forget it! When you get to be manager of this place, you’ll need it for your accounts.’ Personally, I thought I was a long way off becoming a manager; and anyway, the present incumbent never included aniseed beans in the accounts. The whole thing was ridiculous. ‘Keep your characters to yourself,’ I retorted sulkily. ‘Anyway, it’s just hui 茴, the hui for return, with the grass radical on top, isn’t it?’ KongYiji euphorically tapped his overextended fingernails on the bar. ‘Just so, just so!’ he nodded. “now, you’d know all four ways of writing hui?’ I walked off, scowling. Kong Yiji sighed—his fingernail already dipped in wine, ready to scrawl the characters across the bar—at my lamentable absence of academic zeal.

Sometimes hearing the sound of laughter, the local children would scurry over to watch the fun, gathering around Kong Yiji. He would present each with a single aniseed bean, which they would gulp down; they would then remain implacably rooted to the spot, eyes fixed on the dish. ‘Hardly any left,’ an unnerved Kong would scoop to tell them, his fingers sheltering the dish. Straightening up, he would glance back at the beans shaking his head: ‘Hardly any! Are the beans multitudinous in abundance? Multitudinous in abundance they are not.’ At which his young audience would scatter hilariously.

 

And so it was that Kong Yiji spread joy wherever he went; though when he wasn’t around, we barely missed him.

‘I haven’t seen Kong Yiji for ages,’ the manager pronounced one day, probably a little before the Mid-autumn festival, as he took down the slate to work slowly through the accounts. ‘He still owes me nineteen coppers!’ It now dawned on me, too, that we had long been deprived of the pleasure of Kong Yiji’s company. ‘How’d you expect him to drag himself over here?’ one customer said. ‘He’s had his legs broken.’ ‘Oh?’ ‘He was stealing, as usual. But he must have been out of his mind to try it on Mr Ding, the magistrate. Just asking for trouble.’ ‘So what happened?’ ‘First, they got a confession out of him, then they beat the hell out of him and broke his legs. Past midnight it went on.’ ‘Then what happened?’ ‘well, his legs were broken’ ‘I mean after that.’ ‘Oh… Who knows? Maybe he’s dead.’ No further questions; the manager went slowly back to his accounts.

 

Mid-autumn Festival went by, and the wind grew colder with every day that passed; winter, it seemed, was not far off. Every day I spent huddled up next to the fire, wrapped in my padded jacket. And there I was one afternoon, with no other customers about, all ready to doze off, when a muffled but familiar voice interrupted: ‘Warm me a bowl of wine.’ I looked up: no one in sight. But when I hauled myself to my feet, I spotted Kong Yiji sitting at the foot of the bar, facing the door. He looked terrible: his face grey, gaunt, a thin, ragged cotton jacket over his shoulders, his legs crossed beneath him, sitting on a rush sack that he kept in place with a straw rope. ‘Warm me a bowl of wine,’ he repeated when he caught sight of me. ‘Is that Kong Yiji?’ the manager craned forward. ‘You still owe me nineteen coppers!’ Kong Yiji looked despondently up at him. ‘I…I’ll bring it next time. I can pay cash today, so make it a drop of the good stuff.’ ‘Stealing again, Kong Yiji?’ the manager grinned, going through the usual motions. This time, however, Kong was capable of nothing but weak protest: ‘Don’t make fun of me!’ ‘It was your stealing that got your legs broken in the first place! “I had a bad fall…just a fall…’Kong Yiji muttered, his eye beseeching the manager to close the subject. But by this point, he had already acquired an audience. I warmed the wine, carried it out and placed it on the doorsill. Drawing four coppers out of a pocket in his tattered jacket, he placed them in my hand. His own hand, I saw, was filthy from dragging himself along the ground. Soon enough, he finished his wine and then, amid further laughter from the assembled company, dragged himself off again.

 

After this, we were again bereft of Kong Yiji for an extended period of time. ‘Kong Yiji still owes me nineteen coppers!’ the manager said, as the year neared its end, taking the slate down again.’ Kong Yiji still owes me nineteen coppers!’ he repeated at the Dragon boat Festival, in early summer the following year. At he Mid-Autumn Festival, he said nothing more about it; nor at the end of the year.

I never saw him again—I suppose Kong Yiji really must have died. 

鲁镇的酒店的格局,是和别处不同的:都是当街一个曲尺形的大柜台,柜里面预备着热水,可以随时温酒。做工的人,傍午傍晚散了工,每每花四文铜钱,买一碗酒,------这是二十多年前的事,现在每碗要涨到十文,------靠柜外站着,热热的喝了休息;倘肯多花一文,便可以买一碟盐煮笋,或者茴香豆,做下酒物了,如果出到十几文,那就能买一样荤菜,但这些顾客,多是短衣帮,大抵没有这样阔绰。只有穿长衫的,才踱进店面隔壁的房子里,要酒要菜,慢慢地坐喝。

  我从十二岁起,便在镇口的咸亨酒店里当伙计,掌柜说,我样子太傻,怕侍候不了长衫主顾,就在外面做点事罢。外面的短衣主顾,虽然容易说话,但唠唠叨叨缠夹不清的也很不少。他们往往要亲眼看着黄酒从坛子里舀出,看过壶子底里有水没有,又亲看将壶子放在热水里,然后放心:在这严重监督下,羼水也很为难。所以过了几天,掌柜又说我干不了这事。幸亏荐头的情面大,辞退不得,便改为专管温酒的一种无聊职务了。

  我从此便整天的站在柜台里,专管我的职务。虽然没有什么失职,但总觉得有些单调,有些无聊。掌柜是一副凶脸孔,主顾也没有好声气,教人活泼不得;只有孔乙己到店,才可以笑几声,所以至今还记得。

  孔乙己是站着喝酒而穿长衫的唯一的人。他身材很高大;青白脸色,皱纹间时常夹些伤痕;一部乱蓬蓬的花白的胡子。穿的虽然是长衫,可是又脏又破,似乎十多年没有补,也没有洗。他对人说话,总是满口之乎者也,叫人半懂不懂的。因为他姓孔,别人便从描红纸上的“上大人孔乙己”这半懂不懂的话里,替他取下一个绰号,叫作孔乙己。孔乙己一到店,所有喝酒的人便都看着他笑,有的叫道,“孔乙己,你脸上又添上新伤疤了!”他不回答,对柜里说,“温两碗酒,要一碟茴香豆。”便排出九文大钱。他们又故意的高声嚷道,“你一定又偷了人家的东西了!”孔乙己睁大眼睛说,“你怎么这样凭空污人清白……”“什么清白?我前天亲眼见你偷了何家的书,吊着打。”孔乙己便涨红了脸,额上的青筋条条绽出,争辩道,“窃书不能算偷……窃书!……读书人的事,能算偷么?”接连便是难懂的话,什么“君子固穷”,什么“者乎”之类,引得众人都哄笑起来:店内外充满了快活的空气。

  听人家背地里谈论,孔乙己原来也读过书,但终于没有进学,又不会营生;于是愈过愈穷,弄到将要讨饭了。幸而写得一笔好字,便替人家抄抄书,换一碗饭吃。可惜他又有一样坏脾气,便是好吃懒做。坐不到几天,便连人和书籍纸张笔砚,一齐失踪。如是几次,叫他抄书的人也没有了。孔乙己没有法,便免不了偶然做些偷窃的事。但他在我们店里,品行却比别人都好,就是从不拖欠;虽然间或没有现钱,暂时记在粉板上,但不出一月,定然还清,从粉板上拭去了孔乙己的名字。

  孔乙己喝过半碗酒,涨红的脸色渐渐复了原,旁人便又问道,“孔乙己,你当真认识字么?”孔乙己看着问他的人,显出不屑置辩的神气。他们便接着说道,“你怎的连半个秀才也捞不到呢?”孔乙己立刻显出颓唐不安模样,脸上笼上了一层灰色,嘴里说些话;这回可是全是之乎者也之类,一些不懂了。在这时候,众人也都哄笑起来:店内外充满了快活的空气。

  在这些时候,我可以附和着笑,掌柜是决不责备的。而且掌柜见了孔乙己,也每每这样问他,引人发笑。孔乙己自己知道不能和他们谈天,便只好向孩子说话。有一回对我说道,“你读过书么?”我略略点一点头。他说,“读过书,……我便考你一考。茴香豆的茴字,怎样写的?”我想,讨饭一样的人,也配考我么?便回过脸去,不再理会。孔乙己等了许久,很恳切的说道,“不能写罢?……我教给你,记着!这些字应该记着。将来做掌柜的时候,写账要用。”我暗想我和掌柜的等级还很远呢,而且我们掌柜也从不将茴香豆上账;又好笑,又不耐烦,懒懒的答他道,“谁要你教,不是草头底下一个来回的回字么?”孔乙己显出极高兴的样子,将两个指头的长指甲敲着柜台,点头说,“对呀对呀!……回字有四样写法,你知道么?”我愈不耐烦了,努着嘴走远。孔乙己刚用指甲蘸了酒,想在柜上写字,见我毫不热心,便又叹一口气,显出极惋惜的样子。 

有几回,邻居孩子听得笑声,也赶热闹,围住了孔乙己。他便给他们一人一颗。孩子吃完豆,仍然不散,眼睛都望着碟子。孔乙己着了慌,伸开五指将碟子罩住,弯腰下去说道,“不多了,我已经不多了。”直起身又看一看豆,自己摇头说,“不多不多!多乎哉?不多也。”于是这一群孩子都在笑声里走散了。

  孔乙己是这样的使人快活,可是没有他,别人也便这么过。

  有一天,大约是中秋前的两三天,掌柜正在慢慢的结账,取下粉板,忽然说,“孔乙己长久没有来了。还欠十九个钱呢!”我才也觉得他的确长久没有来了。一个喝酒的人说道,“他怎么会来?……他打折了腿了。”掌柜说,“哦!”“他总仍旧是偷。这一回,是自己发昏,竟偷到丁举人家里去了。他家的东西,偷的得吗?”“后来怎么样?”“怎么样?先写服辩,后来是打,打了大半夜,再打折了腿。”“后来呢?”“后来打折了腿了。”“打折了怎样呢?”“怎样?……谁晓得?许是死了。”掌柜也不再问,仍然慢慢的算他的账。  

中秋之后,秋风是一天凉比一天,看看将近初冬;我整天的靠着火,也须穿上棉袄了。一天的下半天,没有一个顾客,我正合了眼坐着。忽然间听得一个声音,“温一碗酒。”这声音虽然极低,却很耳熟。看时又全没有人。站起来向外一望,那孔乙己便在柜台下对了门槛坐着。他脸上黑而且瘦,已经不成样子;穿一件破夹袄,盘着两腿,下面垫一个蒲包,用草绳在肩上挂住;见了我,又说道,“温一碗酒。”掌柜也伸出头去,一面说,“孔乙己么?你还欠十九个钱呢!”孔乙己很颓唐的仰面答道,“这……下回还清罢。这一回是现钱,酒要好。”掌柜仍然同平常一样,笑着对他说,“孔乙己,你又偷了东西了!”但他这回却不十分分辩,单说了一句“不要取笑!”“取笑?要是不偷,怎么会打断腿?”孔乙己低声说道,“跌断,跌,跌……”他的眼色,很像恳求掌柜,不要再提。此时已经聚集了几个人,便和掌柜都笑了。我温了酒,端出去,放在门槛上。他从破衣袋里摸出四文大钱,放在我手里,见他满手是泥,原来他便用这手走来的。不一会,他喝完酒,便又在旁人的说笑声中,坐着用这手慢慢走去了。

  自此以后,又长久没有看见孔乙己。到了年关,掌柜取下粉板说,“孔乙己还欠十九个钱呢!”到第二年的端午,又说“孔乙己还欠十九个钱呢!”到中秋可是没有说,再到年关也没有看见他。

  我到现在终于没有见——大约孔乙己的确死了。

 

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