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Chapter 1

Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn. He cared nothing for boxing, in fact he disliked it, but he learned it painfully and thoroughly to counteract the feeling of inferiority and shyness he had felt on being treated as a Jew at Princeton. There was a certain inner comfort in knowing he could knock down anybody who was snooty to him, although, being very shy and a thoroughly nice boy, he never fought except in the gym. He was Spider Kelly's star pupil. Spider Kelly taught all his young gentlemen to box like featherweights, no matter whether they weighed one hundred and five or two hundred and five pounds. But it seemed to fit Cohn. He was really very fast. He was so good that Spider promptly overmatched him and got his nose permanently flattened. This increased Cohn's distaste for boxing, but it gave him a certain satisfaction of some strange sort, and it certainly improved his nose. In his last year at Princeton he read too much and took to wearing spectacles. I never met any one of his class who remembered him. They did not even remember that he was middleweight boxing champion.

       I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together, and I always had a suspicion that perhaps Robert Cohn had never been middleweight boxing champion, and that perhaps a horse had stepped on his face, or that maybe his mother had been frightened or seen something, or that he had, maybe, bumped into something as a young child, but I finally had somebody verify the story from Spider Kelly. Spider Kelly not only remembered Cohn. He had often wondered what had become of him.

       Robert Cohn was a member, through his father, of one of the richest Jewish families in New York, and through his mother of one of the oldest. At the military school where he prepped for Princeton, and played a very good end on the football team, no one had made him race-conscious. No one had ever made him feel he was a Jew, and hence any different from anybody else, until he went to Princeton. He was a nice boy, a friendly boy, and very shy, and it made him bitter. He took it out in boxing, and he came out of Princeton with painful self-consciousness and the flattened nose, and was married by the first girl who was nice to him. He was married five years, had three children, lost most of the fifty thousand dollars his father left him, the balance of the estate having gone to his mother, hardened into a rather unattractive mould under domestic unhappiness with a rich wife; and just when he had made up his mind to leave his wife she left him and went off with a miniature-painter. As he had been thinking for months about leaving his wife and had not done it because it would be too cruel to deprive her of himself, her departure was a very healthful shock.

       The divorce was arranged and Robert Cohn went out to the Coast. In California he fell among literary people and, as he still had a little of the fifty thousand left, in a short time he was backing a review of the Arts. The review commenced publication in Carmel, California, and finished in Provincetown, Massachusetts. By that time Cohn, who had been regarded purely as an angel, and whose name had appeared on the editorial page merely as a member of the advisory board, had become the sole editor. It was his money and he discovered he liked the authority of editing. He was sorry when the magazine became too expensive and he had to give it up.

      By that time, though, he had other things to worry about. He had been taken in hand by a lady who hoped to rise with the magazine. She was very forceful, and Cohn never had a chance of not being taken in hand. Also he was sure that he loved her. When this lady saw that the magazine was not going to rise, she became a little disgusted with Cohn and decided that she might as well get what there was to get while there was still something available, so she urged that they go to Europe, where Cohn could write. They came to Europe, where the lady had been educated, and stayed three years. During these three years, the first spent in travel, the last two in Paris, Robert Cohn had two friends, Braddocks and myself. Braddocks was his literary friend. I was his tennis friend.

       The lady who had him, her name was Frances, found toward the end of the second year that her looks were going, and her attitude toward Robert changed from one of careless possession and exploitation to the absolute determination that he should marry her. During this time Robert's mother had settled an allowance on him, about three hundred dollars a month. During two years and a half I do not believe that Robert Cohn looked at another woman. He was fairly happy, except that, like many people living in Europe, he would rather have been in America, and he had discovered writing. He wrote a novel, and it was not really such a bad novel as the critics later called it, although it was a very poor novel. He read many books, played bridge, played tennis, and boxed at a local gymnasium.

       I first became aware of his lady's attitude toward him one night after the three of us had dined together. We had dined at l'Avenue's and afterward went to the Café de Versailles for coffee. We had several _fines_ after the coffee, and I said I must be going. Cohn had been talking about the two of us going off somewhere on a weekend trip. He wanted to get out of town and get in a good walk. I suggested we fly to Strasbourg and walk up to Saint Odile, or somewhere or other in Alsace. "I know a girl in Strasbourg who can show us the town," I said.

       Somebody kicked me under the table. I thought it was accidental and went on: "She's been there two years and knows everything there is to know about the town. She's a swell girl."

       I was kicked again under the table and, looking, saw Frances, Robert's lady, her chin lifting and her face hardening.

       "Hell," I said, "why go to Strasbourg? We could go up to Bruges, or to the Ardennes."

       Cohn looked relieved. I was not kicked again. I said good-night and went out. Cohn said he wanted to buy a paper and would walk to the corner with me. "For God's sake," he said, "why did you say that about that girl in Strasbourg for? Didn't you see Frances?"

       "No, why should I? If I know an American girl that lives in Strasbourg what the hell is it to Frances?"

       "It doesn't make any difference. Any girl. I couldn't go, that would be all."

       "Don't be silly."

       "You don't know Frances. Any girl at all. Didn't you see the way she looked?"

       "Oh, well," I said, "let's go to Senlis."

       "Don't get sore."

       "I'm not sore. Senlis is a good place and we can stay at the Grand Cerf and take a hike in the woods and come home."

       "Good, that will be fine."

       "Well, I'll see you to-morrow at the courts," I said.

       "Good-night, Jake," he said, and started back to the café.

       "You forgot to get your paper," I said.

       "That's so." He walked with me up to the kiosque at the corner. "You are not sore, are you, Jake?" He turned with the paper in his hand.

       "No, why should I be?"

       "See you at tennis," he said. I watched him walk back to the café holding his paper. I rather liked him and evidently she led him quite a life.

 

罗伯特.科恩一度是普林斯顿大学中量级拳击冠军。别以为一个拳击冠军的称号会给我非常深刻的印象,但当时对科恩却是件了不起的事儿。他对拳击一点也不爱好,实际上他很讨厌拳击,但是他仍然痛苦而一丝不苟地学打拳,以此来抵消在普林斯顿大学被作为犹太人对待时所感到的低人一等和羞怯的心情。虽然他很腼腆,是个十分厚道的年轻人,除了在健身房里打拳,从来不跟人打架斗殴,但是想到自己能够把瞧不起他的任何一个人打倒在地,他就暗自得意。他是斯拜德.凯利的得意门生。不管这些年轻人的体重是一百零五磅,还是二百零五磅,斯拜德.凯利都把他们当作次轻量级拳击手来教。不过这种方法似乎对科恩很适合。他的动作确实非常敏捷。他学得很好,斯拜德马上安排他跟强手交锋,给他终生留下了一个扁平的鼻子。这件事增加了科恩对拳击的反感,但也给了他某种异样的满足,也确实使他的鼻子变得好看些。他在普林斯顿大学的最后一年里,读书过多,开始戴眼镜。我没见过他班上的同学还有谁记得他的。他们甚至记不得他曾是中量级拳击冠军。

我对所有坦率、朴实的人向来信不过,尤其是当他们讲的事没有漏洞的时候,因此我始终怀疑罗伯特.科恩大概从来也没当过中量级拳击冠军,也许有匹马曾踩过他的脸,要不,也许他母亲怀胎时受过惊吓或者看见过什么怪物,要不,也许他小时候曾撞在什么东西上,不过他这段经历终于有人从斯拜德.凯利那里给我得到证实。斯拜德.凯利不仅记得科恩。他还常常想知道科恩后来怎么样了。

从父系来说,罗伯特.科恩出身于纽约一个非常富有的犹太家庭,从母系来说,又是一个古老世家的后裔。为了进普林斯顿大学,他在军事学校补习过,是该校橄榄球队里非常出色的边锋,在那里,没人使他意识到自己的种族问题。进普林斯顿大学以前,从来没人使他感到自己是一个犹太人,因而和其他人有所不同。他是个厚道的年轻人,是个和善的年轻人,非常腼腆,这使他很痛心。他在拳击中发泄这种情绪,他带着痛苦的自我感觉和扁平的鼻子离开普林斯顿大学,碰到第一个待他好的姑娘就结了婚。他结婚五年,生了三个孩子,父亲留给他的五万美元几乎挥霍殆尽(遗产的其余部分归他母亲所有),由于和有钱的妻子过着不幸的家庭生活,他变得冷漠无情,使人讨厌;正当他决心遗弃他妻子的时候,她却抛弃了他,跟一位袖珍人像画家出走了。他已有好几个月尽考虑着要离开他的妻子,因为觉得使她失去他未免太残酷,所以没有那么做,因此她的出走对他倒是一次很有利的冲击。

办妥了离婚手续,罗伯特.科恩动身去西海岸。在加利福尼亚,他投身于文艺界,由于他那五万美元还略有剩余,所以不久就资助一家文艺评论杂志。这家杂志创刊于加利福尼亚州的卡默尔,停刊于马萨诸塞州的普罗文斯敦。科恩起初纯粹被看作一个后台老板,他的名字给登在扉页上只不过作为顾问之一,后来却成为唯一的编辑了。杂志出刊靠他的钱,他发现自己喜欢编辑的职权。当这家杂志因开支太大,他不得不放弃这项事业时,他感到很惋惜。

不过那时候,另外有事要他来操心了。他已经被一位指望跟这家杂志一起飞黄腾达的女士捏在手心里了。她非常坚强有力,科恩始终没法摆脱她的掌握。再说,他也确信自己在爱她。这女士发现杂志已经一撅不振时,就有点嫌弃科恩,心想还是趁有东西可捞的时候捞它一把的好,所以她极力主张他俩到欧洲去,科恩在那里可以从事写作。他们到了她曾在那里念过书的欧洲,呆了三年。这三年期间的第一年,他们用来在各地旅行,后两年住在巴黎,罗伯特.科恩结识了两个朋友:布雷多克斯和我。布雷多克斯是他文艺界的朋友。我是他打网球的伙伴。

这位掌握科恩的女士名叫弗朗西丝,在第二年末发现自己的姿色日见衰退,就一反过去漫不经心地掌握并利用科恩的常态,断然决定他必须娶她。在此期间,罗伯特的母亲给了他一笔生活费,每个月约三百美元。我相信在两年半的时间里,罗伯特.科恩没有注意过别的女人。他相当幸福,只不过同许多住在欧洲的美国人一样,他觉得还是住在美国好。他发现自己能写点东西。他写了一部小说,虽然写得很不好,但也完全不象后来有些评论家所说的那么糟,他博览群书,玩桥牌,打网球,还到本地一个健身房去打拳。我第一次注意到这位女士对科恩的态度是有天晚上我们三人一块儿吃完饭之后。我们先在大马路饭店吃饭,然后到凡尔赛咖啡馆喝咖啡。喝完咖啡我匀喝了几杯白兰地,我说我该走了。科恩刚在谈我们俩到什么地方去来一次周末旅行。他想离开城市好好地去远足一番。我建议坐飞机到斯特拉斯堡,从那里步行到圣奥代尔或者阿尔萨斯地区的什么别的地方。“我在斯特拉斯堡有个熟识的姑娘,她可以带我们观光那座城市,”我说。

有人在桌子底下踢了我一脚。我以为是无意中碰着的,所以接着往下说:“她在那里已经住了两年,凡是城里你想要了解的一切她都知道。她是位可爱的姑娘。”

在桌子下面我又挨了一脚,我一看,只见弗朗西丝,就是罗伯特的情人,撅着下巴,板着面孔呢。

“真混帐,”我说,“为什么到斯特拉斯堡去呢?我们可以朝北到布鲁日或者阿登森林去嘛。”

科恩好象放心了。我再也没有挨踢。我向他们说了声晚安就往外走。科恩说他要陪我到大街拐角去买份报纸。“上帝保佑,”他说,“你提斯特拉斯堡那位姑娘干啥啊?你没看见弗朗西丝的脸色?”

“没有,我哪里知道?我认识一个住在斯特拉斯堡的美国姑娘,这究竟关弗朗西丝什么事?”

“反正一样。不管是哪个姑娘。总而言之,我不能去。”

“别傻了。”“你不了解弗朗西丝。不管是哪个姑娘,你没看见她那副脸色吗?”

“好啦,”我说,“那我们去森利吧。”

“别生气。”

“我不生气。森利是个好地方,我们可以住在麋鹿大饭店,到树林里远足一次,然后回家。”

“好,那很有意思。”

“好,明天网球场上见,”我说。

“晚安,杰克,”他说完,回头朝咖啡馆走去。

“你忘记买报纸了,”我说。

“真的。”他陪我走到大街拐角的报亭。“你真的不生气,杰克?”他手里拿着报纸转身问。

“不,我干吗生气呢?”

“网球场上见,”他说。我看着他手里拿着报纸走回咖啡馆。我挺喜欢他,可弗朗西丝显然弄得他的日子很不好过。



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