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 exclaimed:
‘Quick! Cast your eye on the man going out at the door. Take in every detail of him.’
‘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.’
‘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.
Is He Living or Is He Dead? / Tot oder lebendig
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