The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories
Is He Living Or Is He Dead?
I was spending the month of March 1892 at Mentone, in the Riviera. At this retired spot
one has all the advantages, privately, which are to be had publicly at Monte Carlo and
Nice, a few miles farther along. That is to say, one has the flooding sunshine, the balmy
air and the brilliant blue sea, without the marring additions of human pow-wow and fuss
and feathers and display. Mentone is quiet, simple, restful, unpretentious; the rich and the
gaudy do not come there. As a rule, I mean, the rich do not come there. Now and then a
rich man comes, and I presently got acquainted with one of these. Partially to disguise
him I will call him Smith. One day, in the Hotel des Anglais, at the second breakfast, he
'Quick! Cast your eye on the man going out at the door. Take in every detail of him.'
'Do you know who he is?'
'Yes. He spent several days here before you came. He is an old, retired, and very rich silk
manufacturer from Lyons, they say, and I guess he is alone in the world, for he always
looks sad and dreamy, and doesn't talk with anybody. His name is Theophile Magnan.'
I supposed that Smith would now proceed to justify the large interest which he had
shown in Monsieur Magnan, but, instead, he dropped into a brown study, and was
apparently lost to me and to the rest of the world during some minutes. Now and then he
passed his fingers through his flossy white hair, to assist his thinking, and meantime he
allowed his breakfast to go on cooling. At last he said:
'No, it's gone; I can't call it back.'
'Can't call what back?'
'It's one of Hans Andersen's beautiful little stories. But it's gone fro me. Part of it is like
this: A child has a caged bird, which it loves but thoughtlessly neglects. The bird pours
out its song unheard and unheeded; but, in time, hunger and thirst assail the creature, and
its song grows plaintive and feeble and finally ceases--the bird dies. The child comes, and
is smitten to the heart with remorse: then, with bitter tears and lamentations, it calls its
mates, and they bury the bird with elaborate pomp and the tenderest grief, without
knowing, poor things, that it isn't children only who starve poets to death and then spend
enough on their funerals and monuments to have kept them alive and made them easy
and comfortable. Now--'
But here we were interrupted. About ten that evening I ran across Smith, and he asked me
up to his parlour to help him smoke and drink hot Scotch. It was a cosy place, with its
comfortable chairs, its cheerful lamps, and its friendly open fire of seasoned olive-wood.