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Souvenirs Of An Egoist
by [?]

Eheu fugaces! How that air carries me back, that air ground away so unmercifully, sans tune, sans time on a hopelessly discordant barrel-organ, right underneath my window. It is being bitterly execrated, I know, by the literary gentleman who lives in chambers above me, and by the convivial gentleman who has a dinner party underneath. It has certainly made it impossible for me to continue the passage in my new Fugue in A minor, which was being transferred so flowingly from my own brain on to the score when it interrupted me. But for all that, I have a shrewd suspicion that I shall bear its unmusical torture as long as it lasts, and eventually send away the frowsy foreigner, who no doubt is playing it, happy with a fairly large coin.

Yes: for the sake of old times, for the old emotion’s sake–for Ninette’s sake, I put up with it, not altogether sorry for the recollections it has aroused.

How vividly it brings it all back! Though I am a rich man now, and so comfortably domiciled; though the fashionable world are so eager to lionise me, and the musical world look upon me almost as a god, and to-morrow hundreds of people will be turned away, for want of space, from the Hall where I am to play, just I alone, my last Fantaisie, it was not so very many years ago that I trudged along, fiddling for half-pence in the streets. Ninette and I–Ninette with her barrel-organ, and I fiddling. Poor little Ninette–that air was one of the four her organ played. I wonder what has become of her? Dead, I should hope, poor child. Now that I am successful and famous, a Baron of the French Empire, it is not altogether unpleasant to think of the old, penniless, vagrant days, by a blazing fire in a thick carpeted room, with the November night shut outside. I am rather an epicure of my emotions, and my work is none the worse for it.

‘Little egoist,’ I remember Lady Greville once said of me, ‘he has the true artistic susceptibility. All his sensations are so much grist for his art.’

But it is of Ninette, not Lady Greville, that I think to-night, Ninette’s childish face that the dreary grinding organ brings up before me, not Lady Greville’s aquiline nose and delicate artificial complexion.

Although I am such a great man now, I should find it very awkward to be obliged to answer questions as to my parentage and infancy.

Even my nationality I could not state precisely, though I know I am as much Italian as English, perhaps rather more. From Italy I have inherited my genius and enthusiasm for art, from England I think I must have got my common-sense, and the capacity of keeping the money which I make; also a certain natural coldness of disposition, which those who only know me as a public character do not dream of. All my earliest memories are very vague and indistinct. I remember tramping over France and Italy with a man and woman–they were Italian, I believe–who beat me, and a fiddle, which I loved passionately, and which I cannot remember having ever been without. They are very shadowy presences now, and the name of the man I have forgotten. The woman, I think, was called Maddalena. I am ignorant whether they were related to me in any way: I know that I hated them bitterly, and eventually, after a worse beating than usual, ran away from them. I never cared for any one except my fiddle, until I knew Ninette.

I was very hungry and miserable indeed when that rencontre came about. I wonder sometimes what would have happened if Ninette had not come to the rescue, just at that particular juncture. Would some other salvation have appeared, or would–well, well, if one once begins wondering what would have happened if certain accidents in one’s life had not befallen one when they did, where will one come to a stop? Anyhow, when I had escaped from my taskmasters, a wretched, puny child of ten, undersized and shivering, clasping a cheap fiddle in my arms, lost in the huge labyrinth of Paris, without a sou in my rags to save me from starvation, I did meet Ninette, and that, after all, is the main point.